What is our law reform and policy work?
We work to influence the development of law and policy by:
- challenging laws that unfairly impact on women experiencing violence and relationship breakdown
- informing and advancing policy initiatives that promote the rights of women
- creating greater awareness and understanding of the barriers to access to justice for family violence victim survivors in the legal and family violence systems
As part of this work, we work closely with peak bodies, community legal centres and domestic violence organisations to create the greatest impact.
We are also currently the National Law Reform Coordinator of the national network of women's legal services - Women's Legal Services Australia (WLSA).
Our policy platform
Our work is guided by our three key policy priorities:
- Eliminating violence against women and their children
- Promoting women's health, housing and economic security after violence and relationship breakdown.
- Improving pathways to accessing justice.
Read our policy platform to learn more about our policy positions and recommendations for change.
Rebuilding Strength – victims of crime assistance and family violence
We are working with our pro bono partners, Baker & McKenzie and Colin Biggers & Paisley, to provide legal assistance to family violence victim survivors seeking to access Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) awards. By running this series of cases, we aim to investigate and document how the VOCAT system responds to family violence related crimes. Where there are barriers to access to justice for family violence survivors, we aim to make recommendations for change.
VOCAT awards are an important aspect of recovery for family violence surivors. Such awards can provide family violence survivors with the ability to pay for counselling, the cost of relocation, security, and personal rehabilitation. In the aftermath of family violence, VOCAT is one way to recognise the harm done, and provide support and closure.
The Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended this issue be considered, and in late 2016 the Victorian Law Reform Commission received a reference to enquire into VOCAT and family violence.
Small Claims Large Battles – barriers to justice in family law property matters
In 2016, the Small Claims, Large Battles project was established to investigate and document the experience of vulnerable women seeking family law property settlements. Through the project, with pro-bono support from leading private law firms, we are providing legal assistance to women who ordinarily could not afford to resolve their family law property issues.
Women are most at risk of economic hardship when relationships end. However, where the asset pool is small or consists entirely of superannuation or debt, many women simply walk away from seeking their share of property. Women who have experienced family violence are also disadvantaged by the family law system. In particular, court processes and rules can be used by perpetrators of violence to continue to control, financially damage or abuse a victim.
We aim to highlight that currently the length, cost and complexity of family law property settlements makes them inaccessible to many women who need them most, (such as women already experiencing poverty).
Law reform reports and submissions
One way we work to influence government policy is through our law reform submission and reports.
- Proposed Family Law Act amendments (2017, through WLSA)
- Child protection legal services review (2016)
- Submission to child protection permanency amendment inquiry (2016)
- REPORT: A preliminary investigation into the use of interpreters in family violence matters (2016)
Safety First in Family Law
In 2016, in the lead up to the national election, Women's Legal Services Australia (a national network of that WLSV is part of) is calling on all major political parties to prioritise the safety of women and children in family law.
The real and practical solutions to addressing the systemic and cultural gaps in family law are set out in WLSA's policy platform Five Steps to Safety in Family Law.
Together with over 90 organisations, WLSA has written an open letter to the leaders of all the major political parties to commit to real change in family law today.
Read Women's Legal Services Australia's media release - WLSA launches 5 step plan to keep women and children safe in family law.
If you'd like to get involved and take action, here's a short guide on how to write to the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Greens.
Informing the Royal Commission into Family Violence
In 2015, Australia's first ever Royal Commission into Family Violence commenced in Victoria.
WLSV has contributed its expertise and shared the experience of our clients in order to inform and influence the findings of the Royal Commission.
Read our submissions
- Improving the family violence legal system
- Economic abuse and economic recovery of family violence victims
- Multi-jurisdictional issues
Our evidence in public hearings
Our Stepping Stones Project Coordinator, Emma Smallwood, spoke to the Commission about the barriers to economic empowerment after family violence.
Our Principal Solicitor, Helen Matthews, shared her expertise of the family law system with the Commission and the challenges in having family violence recognised and responded to.
Improving access to justice in family law
In 2014 the Productivity Commission reported on its review into access to justice arrangements in the federal court. The Productivity Commission made the following key recommendations:
- Legislative protections to stop direct cross-examination of family violence victims by their abuser in family law cases.
- An extra $200 million to the legal assistance sector, with $120 million from the Federal Government.
Read our submission to the Productivity Commission here.
Our former Policy Manager, Pasanna Mutha-Merennege and CEO, Joanna Fletcher, were invited to speak to the Productivity Commission during their public hearings.
Calling for change in the family violence system in Victoria
In 2014, WLSV was part of the No More Deaths Alliance that sought election commitments from all major political parties prior to the last state election to improve the family violence system.
Family violence became a key issue of the 2014 state election and resulted in significant policy commitments from all major political parties in line with our 25 key campaign asks.
Read more about our recommendations change:
Cutting funding to family violence services costs lives and money
15 February 2017
Women’s Legal Service Victoria (WLSV) is in Canberra this week lobbying MPs and Senators from across the aisles to reverse upcoming funding cuts to the service. Media release can be read here
Rosie Batty distressed by funding cut to WLSV
9 February 2017
Victoria’s only specialist women’s family violence legal service has been devastated by a funding cut despite soaring family violence figures in the state.
Media release can be read here
21 December 2016
Women’s Legal Service Victoria is devastated to learn that we face $200K funding cut from the federal government in July 2017.
Media release can be read here.