A Family Court judge is cautioning against ‘quick fix’ legal solutions to the problem of family violence.
Judge Joe Harman sits on the Federal Circuit for the Family Court and was the keynote speaker at a New South Wales Family Law Conference this week.
Despite the perception that Australia is facing a domestic violence “epidemic”, Judge Harman said he did not see it that way.
“That suggested that it’s something that’s come about quickly and that it’s something that has a quick ready solution or antidote,” he said.
“We’ve always had family violence; we just haven’t talked about it.”
One in four Australian women has experienced violence at the hands of her partner or ex-partner, and on average, one Australian woman is killed each week due to domestic violence.
The consensus is that it is a difficult conversation to have, but Judge Harman said now was the time that Australia needed to talk about these statistics.
Judge Harman said in such instances, courts had their place.
“For some people [courts] are the starting point,” he said.
“If you are protecting yourself from horrific violence, you are probably going to be starting in a court process because you need that level of protection and intervention.”
Courts should be an endpoint: judge
He also told the conference in Lismore that more effort needed to be made to keep matters out of court.
He believes society has become too reliant on the court system.
“There are problems with people starting with courts; courts should be where disputes end when all other avenues have been attempted,” he said.
“Courts deny agency to people and don’t permit them the opportunity to find their own solutions.
“I don’t think society is intended, even within our very traditional legal process, to rely upon courts to determine all disputes.”
He thinks too many people surrender control of their disputes by heading to court prematurely.
“There are important elements in our law, such as the international convention, that say that the family is the fundamental unit of society and that courts and governments shouldn’t interfere in families unless absolutely necessary,” Judge Harman said.
“It’s so rarely necessary; people just need to be encouraged to focus and resolve, particularly because they have to live with it.”
Domestic violence can be dealt with out of court: judge
But ironically, the courts can inflict further grief on those who have already suffered domestic abuse.
Judge Harman said the delays, the cost of going to court, the lack of control and all the frustrations that come with that were a source of stress for victims.
“Not everything needs to be dealt with in a public forum; there are ways and means of assisting people to move forward,” he said.
On the back of last week’s heads of state meeting on domestic violence in Brisbane, Judge Harman said it was encouraging to hear such an open and candid dialogue.
“There are no quick fixes here; it is about finding solutions and it’s about finding things that will work for individuals and for families,” Judge Harman said.
“Because if we don’t find them, the cost, as productivity commissions’ make clear, is billions and billions of dollars a year in financial costs.
“The real costs are children’s childhoods marred with this type of behaviour, where they can’t achieve their potential and where the citizens that we are hoping to produce for future years aren’t produced.”
Read More: ABC
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