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By Tony Zhang
A new restraining order system is set to be in place for Western Australians with a new model aimed to streamline contested family violence restraining order applications.
As part of the landmark family violence legislation passed by State Parliament earlier this year, Western Australians will soon see a change to the way some family violence restraining orders are dealt with.
Both parties can now agree on the terms of an order without having to go to court for a formal hearing and applicants and respondents can attend the same secure location but in separate rooms, with their own lawyers.
Specially trained conference mediators who understand how to overcome the power imbalance evident in any family violence relationship “shuttle” between the two parties, negotiating the terms on an order until agreement is reached.
Perth, Joondalup and Fremantle are the first magistrates courts to use the new model.
“As well as the greater flexibility this process offers, registrars will have the capacity to refer suitable respondents to a non-mandatory behaviour awareness program,” Attorney-General John Quigley said.
“The program, which is being co-designed with the community sector, will seek to give respondents a greater understanding of how their behaviours are impacting their family relationships.
“Any breaches of these ‘special conference’ orders will be treated the same way as other FVROs by the justice system.”
The Family Violence Legislation Reform Act 2020 has already enabled the electronic tagging of serious family violence offenders and made non-fatal suffocation and strangulation a criminal offence.
In the state budget, $4.7 million has been allocated over four years to the Department of Justice and $2.6 million to Legal Aid to divert contested family violence restraining order (FVRO) matters from court into a shuttle “special conference”, similar to the mediation process.
The Western Australians government said the new process, used in the ACT, is less adversarial and stressful for the family violence victim than having their application go to court. In Perth, Fremantle and Joondalup, FVRO matters will now only be listed for a court hearing if one of the parties objects to taking part in the less formal process or no negotiated agreement is reached.
The Department of Justice will also use the budget funds to set up and run the model, and fund the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia and specialist community legal centres to provide legal advice for respondents while Legal Aid will assist the applicants.
“This Budget allocation builds on the State Government’s significant existing commitments to protect victims of family and domestic violence,” Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence Minister Simone McGurk said.
“Victims will have access to a streamlined restraining order process through this model, which will make the process of seeking protection through the courts easier and less traumatic.
“While orders made through this model must be agreed to by both parties, it prioritises any safety concerns the victims may have.”