Victorian Legal Aid, community justice centre confront wave of family violence cases

Confusion about the justice system and anxieties over facing their accuser are the major hurdles facing family violence victims in court, Bendigo's legal aid provider has said. 

Victorian Legal Aid managing lawyer Marcus Williams said his organisation was not only the biggest service provider in relation to family violence across the state, but was “flat out” trying to respond to all requests for help. 

In 2015-16, there were 29 grants of legal aid, and another 89 duty lawyer services, for breaches of intervention orders in the Bendigo area. 

Despite an increase of almost 40 per cent in legal aid grants, three in every five Victorians who requested help with a family violence case missed out.

Without representation, Mr Williams said there was a lack of understanding from victims and perpetrators about what to expect inside the courtroom.

“Victims are often very anxious, especially if they’ve got children, about their own safety, then have to go to court where the perpetrator might be at some point in the process,” he said. 

But VLA were not the only service struggling to manage its family violence caseload. 

At its report to community event last Thursday evening, ARC Justice announced 67 per cent of all Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre clients were affected by domestic violence in some way.

It is expected the figure is higher as some clients would choose not to disclose their experiences of violence. 

That figure was three percentage points higher at the organisation’s Goulburn Valley centre. 

LCCLC runs a service dedicated to family violence prevention, providing duty lawyers to Bendigo, Kyneton, Maryborough, Echuca and Castlemaine. 

Mr Williams believed his service also had a role to provide legal education outside of the courtroom so the public was better informed about their rights.

He conceded a lack of understanding about the legal process may be “an element” in some women’s apprehension about reporting abuse.