Only in a family law case can the victim of violence face cross-examination by their alleged abuser.
In no area of criminal law is a victim able to be cross-examined in court by the person accused of harming them.
And yet in family law that is exactly what happens on a regular basis.
It is a practice that is deeply traumatic for victims and leads to bad outcomes for them and their children, family violence campaigner and former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty says.
It is the main thing she and Women’s Legal Services Australia would like to see changed when federal and state ministers hold a family violence summit in Brisbane later this week.
“People are shocked to hear this is still going on,” Ms Batty told Fairfax Media.
“I’m calling on all states and territories to help me put the cross-examination of victims by abusers on the agenda at the COAG family violence summit.
“The cross-examination issue is urgent and easily fixed. Women are being traumatised in the system right now and this is leading to adverse outcomes for children as well. The summit is the perfect time to raise awareness of these issues.”
A recent report by the Family Law Council found that in more than half of all disputed parenting matters before the Family Court either one or both of the parents did not have legal representation.
Helen Matthews, principal lawyer with Women’s Legal Services Victoria, said people often could either not afford a lawyer or were choosing to represent themselves.
In some cases it was a deliberate decision to further traumatise the victim, she said.
“[People] have a right to pursue their case, but sometimes we see people using the legal processes as a means of furthering family violence,” Ms Matthews said.
“I have clients who, when faced with this prospect [of being cross-examined by their abuser], they just can’t do it.”
The federal government’s funding cuts to community legal services had been “catastrophic”, Ms Batty said.
“People say, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave’ or ‘Why doesn’t she call triple zero’, but once you’re looking to do that, the first thing you need is a legal representative.”
Ms Batty and Women’s Legal Services want the Family Law Act, which is Commonwealth legislation, amended to stop the practice.
However, such an amendment would create more demand for legal assistance services, which are already struggling with cuts imposed by the Coalition government.
Ms Batty said it was time for governments to address public concern about family violence: “It’s no secret the system is overcrowded and underfunded,” she said. “When is it ever going to be prioritised?”
If you or someone you know needs assistance with family violence call 1800 RESPECT.
Read More: Sydney Morning Herald
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