Shining a light on misidentification

Over the past two years, our duty lawyers have observed an increase in women at court being wrongly identified as the perpetrator in police applications for Intervention Orders. To help women reverse and recover from misidentification (MisID), we worked on a number of coordinated fronts. We produced a policy paper that drew on data from Melbourne Magistrates’ Court which showed that more than half the women identified as perpetrators had been misidentified. Our duty lawyers created a strategic casework guide to sharpen their defence of misidentified women in court and shared it across the sector. We engaged police directly at station level and through the police complaints system, assisted by Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre’s police accountability project. Our social worker also provided holistic support and referrals to affected women. Drawing on our on-the-ground duty lawyer observations and our advocacy with police, we trained community lawyers and police prosecutors to improve practices around the identification and representation of victims of family violence. We also supported our client Stephanie, a survivor of misidentification, to tell her story to the ABC and our data was cited in extensive media coverage of the issue.

Setting the agenda on victims of crime assistance

WLSV played a pivotal role in setting the reform agenda for the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s review into the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996. First, we collaborated with a number of pro bono partners who represented our clients in VOCAT matters and who also worked with us to investigate the systemic barriers family violence victims face in accessing compensation. WLSV then lobbied key stakeholders during the review process and partnered with Domestic Violence Victoria to recommend a major overhaul of the system. The Commission’s report, tabled in Parliament in September 2018, contained a number of recommendations made in WLSV’s joint submission, including the establishment of a new administrative model and a needs-based compensation system. The Victorian Government has given its in-principle support to the recommendations.

Primary prevention of violence against women

WLSV received funding from the Victorian Government’s ‘Free from Violence’ fund to undertake work in primary prevention of violence against women in the legal and justice sector. The program, called Starts with Us, is the first of its kind in the legal and justice arena and engages sector stakeholders to commit to implementing a strategic action plan within their organisation on the prevention of violence against women.

In the first year, Starts with Us will:

  • Identify and build awareness of the drivers of violence against women within the legal and justice context
  • Build a coalition of sector champions to develop and commit to actions to address the drivers of violence against women within the legal and justice sector
  • Develop an action plan on the prevention of violence against women for sector-wide implementation

We are excited to be partnering with Victorian Women Lawyers, the Federation of Community Legal Centres and primary prevention specialists Women’s Health in the North to undertake this important work.

Influencing family law reform

WLSV influenced the national family law reform agenda by setting key reform priorities and adopting a targeted advocacy strategy. Our key reform priorities centred on improving the safety of women and children in the family law system and improving access to fair financial settlements for disadvantaged women through adoption of our Small Claims, Large Battles report. Our advocacy strategy involved engagement with national law reform processes as a foundation for future lobbying.

The Parliamentary inquiry into a better family law system to support and protect those affected by family violence began last financial year with WLSV providing a detailed submission and giving evidence. This year, and before it handed down its final report, the parliamentary committee asked WLSV to provide a supplementary submission addressing some of its findings from the Small Claims, Large Battles report. The committee ultimately adopted 15 of WLSV’s recommendations, including to remove the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility and to provide an administrative mechanism to get information about a partner’s superannuation.

WLSV also heavily engaged with the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) Review of the Family Law System. Senior legal and policy staff met with Professor Helen Rhoades, Commissioner in charge of the review, to discuss our key law reform priority areas. Our submission in response to the issues paper phase of the review targeted the following priority areas for reform which will have the most impact for our clients:

  • early identification of family violence in judicial decision making
  • access to justice through the use of interpreters
  • expansion of legally assisted family dispute resolution (LAFDR)
  • removal of the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility
  • systems abuse reform
  • implementation of the recommendations from WLSV’s Small Claims, Large Battles report.

Our recommendations were well received and we eagerly await the final report in March 2019.