Meet Those Accused of Family Violence – and the Lawyers Who Defend Them

Dandenong Magistrates' Court
Dandenong Magistrates’ Court
Dandenong is one of the state’s busiest courts for intervention orders. That’s clear from the crowded foyer for Courtroom Seven where such matters are heard. The bench seats are thronged with people aged from 18 to 80 and the queue in front of the registrar never seems to get shorter.

Since last December, the Dandenong court has run a pilot to see how prioritising family violence intervention orders improves outcomes.

Under the pilot, the first appearance for those who have breached an intervention order is one week.  For those on summons, mentions and contested hearings, it’s four weeks. Before the pilot, it often took three months for a case to be listed,  due to the explosion in intervention orders, up 200 per cent from 16,889 in 2000-01 to 33,135 in 2013-14.

Offenders have high rates of recidivism, and dealing with matters promptly should protect victims by preventing an increase in the frequency and severity of further abuse.

But timely intervention is also good for perpetrators. Research published by the Centre for Innovative Justice in March on the pilot program suggests there is an ideal window of opportunity within the first days and weeks following police attendance or a court appearance, where the consequences of the perpetrator’s behaviour, the reality of the situation, has started to sink in and there is an openness to change.

“The early indications are good and clients are not coming back,” Scott says of the pilot.

Access to legal advice at this point is also essential. That sounds obvious – knowing whether to cop or contest charges or IVO applications requires evaluation of the evidence and advice on options.

But the reality is much more subtle than that. In effect, magistrates’ courts with family violence expertise offer a sophisticated triage system. At Dandenong, all clients with family violence-related matters are seen by either a VLA or Community Legal Centre lawyer, who refer alleged perpetrators to a suite of services to help them address problems underlying their offending, which commonly include drugs or alcohol, debt, anger management, mental illness and homelessness.

Read the (rather long) article in The Age.

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