Decision to streamline Family Court cases celebrated

Women's Safety NSW chief executive Hayley Foster said she was overwhelmed by the news.

"I burst into tears when I heard," Ms Foster said. "This is a real game-changer."

The Family Court has been inundated with urgent applications as domestic violence spikes due to the increased stress families are being put under by COVID-19 lockdown regulations.

Ms Foster applauded the action taken by the chief justice, saying that the initiative was a way forward and a huge result for those fighting for a safer environment for women and children.

"We've been banging our heads against brick walls with the family law system for so long," Ms Foster said.

We've been banging our heads against brick walls with the family law system for so long.

Hayley Foster

"The biggest failing of the family law system has been keeping children safe."

Police, local courts and services supporting women and children in danger have been long frustrated by a cumbersome bureaucracy that has created tensions between state and federal processes.

Ms Foster explained that you can have a situation where police respond to a violent domestic incident, the local court imposes and Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) on the perpetrator, but because of a previously existing Family Court order, the abusers still have rights to visit and pickup their children.

Women's Safety NSW chief executive Hayley Foster.

 Women's Safety NSW chief executive Hayley Foster.

Under normal circumstances Family Law orders will override AVOs because federal orders have jurisdiction over state orders.

"This is being used as a ticket by abusers, a window of opportunity to further intimidate their victim," Ms Foster said.

"Local courts and local police have been extremely frustrated by this," she said.

Ms Foster explained you could have a situation where a woman is violently abused in front of her children one day, and the man turns up the next morning to take the kids because he has previously been granted access to the children by the Family Law Court.

"This is obviously very traumatic for the children," Ms Foster said. "Kids are literally wetting themselves.

"They are petrified, and they are being forced to go off with their father who they have recently seen abusing, perhaps strangling their mother, or having a knife held to her throat.

"We are talking about issues of horrendous violence. It's a tinderbox situation.

"Most of the homicides that we see around domestic issues happen in this type of situation, this separation period."

Ms Foster said the streamlined system introduced to deal with the rise in cases as a consequence of COVID-19 opens the door for the implementation of a much more efficient court system that will see matters dealt with speedily so that abusers' rights under previous arrangements can be quickly reassessed or revoked.

"This has the capacity to change the whole game, to free up police and local courts to do their job and protect people," she said

The dedicated COVID-19 list has been put in place for the next three months, but Ms Foster believes that if the new efficiencies demonstrate that it is keeping women and children safer, it will be incumbent on the government to implement this system permanently.

"We don't ever want to go backwards on child safety and if we can demonstrate that it's making a difference, it has the capacity to have ramifications across the whole system."


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