Domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty has blasted the Family Court of Australia, accusing the system of often failing to recognise the impact of abuse.
Ms Batty called for a new domestic violence test in custody cases to determine whether it’s safe for children to spend time with either parent.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday, Ms Batty said all judges and magistrates involved in Family Court matters should undergo compulsory training in domestic violence to help them understand its impact.
“In a system that depends so heavily on the discretion of individual decision-makers, comprehensive training is crucial,” Ms Batty said.
She told the audience that the current system can lead to “diabolic” situations which allow abusers access to children, causing ongoing trauma.
“The problem is not in the Family Law Act – it is in the very culture of the family law system that has the responsibility to apply it,” she said.
Ms Batty cited an example of a boy who was left suicidal after spending years fighting Family Court orders to stay with his father, who was accused of sexual abuse, until he successfully applied for an Apprehended Violence Order.
“Can you imagine this happening to your child?” Ms Batty said.
She also spoke of other cases where court orders compelled children to spend time with an abusive parent, including one child who suffers regular panic attacks because of the contact.
The 2015 Australian of the Year called for legislative reform to prevent perpetrators from directly cross examining their victims in court.
The legal system is the leading issue people have raised with her since becoming a high profile advocate for the prevention of abuse following the loss of her son Luke Batty in 2014.
Through the Luke Batty Foundation, Ms Batty has launched a petition urging reforms to the Family Court system which would offer better protection for children.
The petition is backed by Women’s Legal Services Australia, which comprises more than 90 organisations including family violence specialists and legal experts.
The chief executive of the Victims of Crime Assistance League, Robyn Cotterell-Jones, told Fairfax Media in April that the Family Court was so out of touch with the effects of domestic violence that a royal commission was needed.
The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, Diana Bryant, said in a statement: “Not all aspects of the five-step plan which has been promoted by Rosie Batty today are relevant to the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court, but some aspects are and they are under active consideration by the Courts’ Family Violence Committee.
“The significant issue that needs to be addressed, however, is resources. As none of the funding recently announced has been allocated to the Courts for family violence initiatives, any additional services such as those proposed, cannot come from existing budgets and will require a significant commitment of resources.”