VICTIMS of family violence will be able to give evidence remotely or have access to safe rooms and separate entries to perpetrators in court if the state government honours promises made this week.
Premier Daniel Andrews on Wednesday committed to implementing all 227 recommendations arising from the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence.
A key recommendation is that Bendigo house a specialist family violence court, while major changes are urged to significantly increase the safety of victims, who often come face-to-face with perpetrators immediately outside courtrooms.
The findings recommend that within two years, remote witness facilities be made available to victims, and specialist court staff including magistrates be appointed to help with intervention order applications and subsequent proceedings.
Within five years, the findings recommend, all family violence matters should be be heard and determined in specialist family violence courts.
For people in central Victoria, that would mean Bendigo Magistrates Court, which is considered a “headquarter” court.
It is also recommended within five years that the Bendigo court have safe waiting areas, separate entries and exits for victims and the accused, multilingual services, access for people with disabilities, remote witness facilities and security staffing and equipment.
Other recommendations include capping family violence lists so magistrates have sufficient time to hear each matter, prioritising high-risk cases and transferring such matters as traffic infringements to other forums.
Clare Sauro, Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre legal practice manager, welcomed the recommendations, saying some courts in the region, especially smaller ones, offered victims little or no refuge from perpetrators.
“Kyneton is particularly bad,” she said, adding that shared entries and a lack of safe waiting areas led to “scary and overwhelming” situations for victims and even altercations.
“It’s a very hard court for victims of family violence to appear in.”
Financial abuse a ‘hidden problem’
The state government has also been urged to tackle a damaging but often hidden form of family violence: financial abuse.
It is recommended the government push to amend the National Credit Code to include family violence as grounds for financial hardship, it encourage the Financial and Consumer Rights Council to train members to deal with economic abuse issues, and it work with the Essential Services Commission to change how staff deal with customers experiencing family violence.
Ms Sauro said financial abuse was often overlooked.
“Often family violence is a significant part of family violence that women experience and the recommendations help to address that,” she said.