Promoting Healing in the Legal System for Family Violence Victims

Oct 15
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Family violence is on the political, media and public agenda in a way that it has never been before. We have a unique window of opportunity to create real and lasting change. What might that look like for the justice system? Can we craft a system that responds better to victims’ needs? Can we avoid the current harm the system causes? Can we go even further and design a system which actively promotes the healing of family violence victims?

First, do no harm

Surely the medical principle, “first do no harm”, is a good place to start when crafting a system that responds better to victims’ needs. How can we reduce and eliminate the harm that is caused to victims by having to navigate multiple legal issues, in multiple courts over an extended period of time, often without legal representation?

Our Royal Commission submission makes a number of practical recommendations such as:

  • Making video-conferencing broadly available for victims in intervention order cases so that they do not have to compromise their safety and well-being at court
  • Improved information sharing protocols between the police, child protection and the family law and family violence courts so that women do not have to repeat their story multiple times
  • Improving victim access to free legal representation by funding community lawyers to provide assistance to women at the time they make an intervention order application.

Promoting healing

These changes would all make a real and practical difference but they don’t address what is perhaps victims’ biggest concern about the justice system: that they don’t feel heard. In order to shift power to victims to allow them to be heard and to heal, innovative and even “radical” approaches should be considered and tried.

One example of a more innovative approach is the introduction of a specialist victim advocate. The Victorian Coroner, in handing down his findings in the Luke Batty inquest, recommended specialist women’s advocates, whose role it would be to support a victim through their entire journey through the service system and the legal system.

Responses which might be seen as more “radical” include the use of restorative justice processes. Restorative justice is a victim focussed approach that provides a safe and supported environment for victims to communicate to the perpetrator the harm caused to themselves and to negotiate actions that they believe would be restorative. The perpetrator has an opportunity to take accountability for his actions and to make appropriate reparations.

It’s only once we open up to the range of innovative, long term solutions that we will truly provide opportunities for victims to heal and have their voices heard in the justice system.


If you or someone you know has been affected by domestic violence, call the National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line, 1800-RESPECT (1800 737 732). In an emergency, call 000.

The National Working with Men to Tackle Family Violence Conference takes place in Sydney in February 2017.  In association with No To Violence, this event will share and discuss strategies for prevention, intervention and perpetrator accountability. 

Ending Family Violence

Submitted by Joanna Fletcher

Joanna Fletcher

Joanna Fletcher is CEO of Women’s Legal Service Victoria. She has over 14 years’ experience working on issues arising from relationship breakdown and violence against women – in legal practice, policy and management. Prior to commencing as CEO of WLSV in April 2010, Joanna managed WLSV’s policy and advocacy work and was the national law reform coordinator and spokesperson for Women’s Legal Services Australia. This article was co-written by Pasanna Mutha, Manager – Policy & Projects, Women’s Legal Service Victoria.

2 thoughts on “Promoting Healing in the Legal System for Family Violence Victims

  1. For what I can see the DHS department are not readily help the victims that abuse by the family violence. If they do, then why they take the children away from the mother (there a baby boy just born for three weeks old) and a mother still get control and abuse by the violence family?

  2. Domestic Violence has a vast range of behaviours. Only some are currently’illegal’. The criminal system has NO focus on the victim. The victim has no right to legal representation. As long as it’s seen as something an unprepared, overworked and under-qualified police prosecutor can do against highly experienced barristers (in a system which rewards and acknowledges the relative status of its operatives), it just isnt going to be ‘fair or just’.

    As long as the victim is limited about what they may say, or complain about (eg the history is frequently ‘this event’, not the story, as long as police have discretion to take a complaint, investigate, decide what cases are worthwhile, attend an event, decide what charges, if any, and as long as the victim/complainant must be subjected to different rules to the accused, and as long as a case cannot be properly and fully explored, and as long as the truth is irrelevant, and as long as the defence can behave as they do in cross-examination,as long as the Right to silence exists (even though the death penalty is long gone) , and as long as ‘innocent until proven guilty irrespective of the lack of money and resources to do much proving, as long as trauma can be exploited, and as long as the state systems do not work together – the legal system will not stop DV or hold perpetrators accountable.

    Move then to Family Law. As long as it is unaccountable, regulated only by the power of those in power in it, and protected by the secrecy provisions, and as long as they can trivialise, reject DV and as long as they can blame the mothers, and as long as they employ court favourites who are probably corrupt by most analysis, and who are unaccountable, and as long as the Family court protects them, and as long as lunatics supporting the rights of children to have sex with their fathers a la gardner (junk science) but still used – then why are we setting up women to fail by telling them its safe to leave DV? And where are the political or other leaders who want to know about this? and what will it take?
    it isnt prevention, it isnt crisis but by crikey, until the law wants to hold all violent/ abusive people accountable, nothing will change. The ‘what then principle’ asks – what will happen to my victim then? what do they need from us?

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