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Family Court no place to be without legal assistance when family violence is present

Published: 18 April 2016

The Australian Association of Social Workers calls for immediate action from the Commonwealth, states and territories ito provide greater legal assistance for victims of family violence in family law cases.

National Vice-President, Christine Craik, says that the figures released today by National Legal Aid, paint a dire picture, highlighting the poor availability of legal aid to women attending the Family Court where in 79% of cases, family violence was a significant factor.

“Family violence is a national emergency and governments are failing to provide adequate support to some of the most vulnerable members of our society” said Ms Craik.

“Due in part to poor funding and restrictive eligibility requirements, the amounts of Legal Aid are so limited that it is very difficult for victims to access adequate representation. This allows the perpetrator to use the family court processes to further abuse the victim”.

Women surviving family violence are often in the position where they are representing themselves and doing this against their perpetrator, who frequently has greater economic resources and therefore increased access to legal representation.

“The lack of adequate legal support is not only discriminatory, but further entrenches the violence and abuse that victims are trying to escape”.

“The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence has highlighted the detrimental impacts that women and children experience when they are unable to access adequate legal support and advice” said Ms Craik.

Ms Craik added that while the Women's Safety Package announced last year by Prime Minister Turnbull would address some of these issues, it was nowhere near enough.

“The irony is that the Family Court is where family violence is frequently revealed, yet the court system does not appear to understand the dynamics of family violence.”

Legal aid funding is just one problem, significant reform is needed in order to keep women and children safe, Ms Craik said, and making the perpetrators accountable for their behaviour.

The Australian Association of Social Workers represents over 9,000 professional social workers from around Australia, many of whom work on the frontline of family violence.

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers