Vulnerable Witness Protection in Family Law


WLSA has advocated over many years about our concerns for women who are victims of domestic violence having to represent themselves in family law proceedings.  Our advocacy has increased in the last few years in particular, around women survivors of domestic violence being subject to personal cross examination by their own perpetrator.

In family law proceedings, a perpetrator of family violence who is not legally represented can directly cross-examine a victim.  Unlike other federal and State legislation, the Family Law Act 1975 does not contain any specific protections about giving evidence regarding vulnerability for victims of family violence or other witnesses more broadly . eg. Giving evidence by video link or having a support person.

This is of particular significance because:

  1. the high numbers of cases involving family violence in the family courts;
  2. the inability of many victims to obtain legal aid for legal representation in family law, despite the issue being a legal aid priority; and
  3. the high number of court users who have mental health concerns.


Why it matters
For women who are victims of family violence, who have been raped, assaulted or psychologically abused by their ex-partner, appearing unrepresented in a family law trial is a frightening prospect. The experience of direct-cross-examination by an abusive ex-partner:

  • can result in re-traumatisation of the victim;
  • can compromise the quality of evidence given to the court; which can affect the court’s ability to make safe and effective orders;
  • provides an avenue for the perpetrator to ask the victim directly about incidents of violence and abuse, as this is relevant to determining the best interests of the child; 
  • can be a disincentive for victims to proceed to trial;
  • can pressure some victims into consent agreements that may be unsafe or unworkable, to avoid the trial experience;

 
It is therefore essential for specific protections to be introduced to protect vulnerable witnesses against re-traumatisation.

Open letter to Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash 26 October 2015


Joint letter asking for legislative change to protect victims of domestic violence from direct cross-examination in family courts.

Open letter to Senator the Hon George Brandis QC 26 October 2015


Joint letter asking for legislative change to protect victims of domestic violence from direct cross-examination in family courts.

Radio interview with Tim Palmer ABC News 4 November 2015


Great coverage of the challenges faced by victims of domestic violence being cross-examined by the perpetrator. See the full story on websites below.

Download Resources


Below is a list of supporting documents for this campaign.

DescriptionDownload file
Open letter to Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash MINISTER_CASH_LETTER_FOR_CIRCULATION_25_Oct_16 (2 MB, pdf)
Open letter to Senator the Hon George Brandis QC AG_LETTER_FOR_CIRCULATION_25_Oct_16 (2 MB, pdf)

Websites & Links


Link URL
ABC News - Tim Palmer interview http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2015/s4345300.htm
The Age - Article by Jane Lee: Call to stop abusers cross-examining their victims in the Family Court http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/call-to-stop-abusers-crossexamining-their-victims-in-family-courts-20151026-gkiwa8.html