- Crackdown on violence in the home
- By Misha Schubert
- The Age
- Contributed by: Rambo ( 7 articles in 2009 )
TOUGHER rules covering domestic violence and child abuse will be introduced as part of major overhaul of Australia's family law to be undertaken by the Federal Government.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland will today announce a series of moves aimed at strengthening the legal system to provide more protection for women and children from "horrifying" family violence.
"There are still too many families that slip through the safety net," he will tell a conference.
Under a far-reaching overhaul, Mr McClelland will:
? Urge states to align their laws covering domestic disputes to stop people exploiting differences between them to the detriment of children.
? Flag possible changes to the Family Law Act to lift the legal threshold for mandatory reporting of child abuse.
? Propose a national register of domestic violence orders.
? Open the door for lawyers to have a bigger role in dealing with family disputes.
Former Family Court judge Richard Chisholm, who will oversee the probe, has been asked to take particular note of the case involving Darcey Freeman — the four-year-old girl allegedly thrown from the West Gate Bridge by her father after a family breakdown — in recommending changes to the law.
In a major departure from the approach of the former Howard government, the Attorney-General is planning to allow lawyers a bigger role in disputes.
He has commissioned a pilot project to fund lawyers for mediation in limited cases where violence is alleged.
The Howard government banished lawyers from some aspects of family law disputes, forcing separating couples into mediation with counsellors. The move to restore some of their role comes after Mr McClelland recently lifted a ban on lawyers from dispute resolution sessions at Family Relationship Centres.
"My view is that, in the right circumstances, lawyers can assist parties to resolve their disputes out of court," the Attorney-General will declare today.
In a separate move, Mr McClelland has asked the Australian Law Reform Commission if further changes are needed to protect women and children fleeing violent partners if they cross state borders.
In a damning assessment, Mr McClelland says the overlap of family law and child-protection laws can "fail children who fall through the holes created by confusion about jurisdictional responsibilities".
Mr McClelland will ask his state counterparts to improve the interaction between the two sets of laws next month.
But before those talks, he will flag that he is conscious of fears that the threshold for mandatory reporting of child abuse in the Family Law Act is too low.
More training is also planned for workers in the family law system.