The Family Court will be able to triage urgent parenting disputes relating to children within 72 hours in a newly-designated COVID-19 list.
The new measures were announced on Sunday by the Chief Justice of the Family Court and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Will Alstergren.
“Applications that are eligible to be dealt with through the COVID-19 list, especially those involving issues of risk and family violence, will receive immediate attention and will be triaged by a dedicated registrar who will assess the needs of the case and allocate it to be heard by a judge within 72 hours of being assessed,” Chief Justice Alstergren said in a statement. “It is important that these urgent COVID-19 applications are closely managed on a national basis so that they can be heard as swiftly as possible given the unprecedented circumstances we are facing.”
It comes off the back of a 39% increase in urgent applications filed in the Family Court and a 23% increase in the Federal Circuit Court over the past month. Disputes where there is an increased risk of family violence as a result of social restrictions introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19 will be among those fast-tracked.
“I have no doubt about it, this new measure will save lives,” Hayley Foster, CEO of Women’s Safety NSW, says. “The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia should be commended for this decision.”
“If resourced and implemented well, it will have a run-on effect of freeing up state and territory civil and criminal justice systems to properly prioritise child safety in the context of family violence,” Foster says.
Over three-quarters (77.3%) of domestic violence workers surveyed in March reported that safe places for child handovers with their abusive ex-partners no longer being open or available was a serious issue of concern for clients in the context of COVID-19, with many women having to compromise their personal safety through makeshift, informal handover arrangements.
The survey also revealed that three-quarters (75%) of frontline domestic violence workers hold “serious concerns” about the numbers of women succumbing to child contact with a violent parent due to their own lack of other supports in the context of COVID-19.
Here is the report we provided to governments on this issue just 10 days ago. Many others have been advocating on this issue too ✊ So important to acknowledge when governments respond in a timely way to advice in this manner. Thank you. 💜❤️💛🖤💙💚 https://t.co/OZfJZ0D7is— Women’s Safety NSW (@womenssafetynsw) April 25, 2020
Ensuring a greater focus on child safety in the making of apprehended violence orders by police and local court magistrates has long been identified as a necessary reform by domestic and family violence services.
Last year 89% of domestic violence court advocacy workers surveyed across NSW last year reported having issues with police not including children as protected persons on ADVO applications either “sometimes”, “usually” or “always”, whilst 59% reported issues with police reluctance to enact an ADVO breach where family law orders exist, notwithstanding the ADVO overriding the family law order.