Dr Chris Atmore, Senior Policy Advisor at the Federation of Community Legal Centres attended the inquest into the death of Luke Batty. Chris’ series of blogs, following the inquest and reflecting on how the proceedings fit into the broader context of family violence, intimate partner homicides and the experiences of victims in the justice system is important reading for everyone. The inquest is continuing and will resume hearings in December.
The blog outlines systemic issues in the family violence system, including information sharing across agencies, the responsibility on victims, problems in police risk assessments and the lack of information and support available to victims and family members.
Below is a VCOSS summary of just a few of the issues raised in the blog series. For much more detailed analysis of the inquest, please go directly to the Community Law blog.
Victims of family violence, like Luke’s mother Rosie must navigate a complex maze of processes and structures – for example, intervention orders, reporting breaches, dealing with Child Protection services. Rosie was unable to get continuous support from any professional to assist her to manage the myriad of processes, while at the same time protect herself and her child.
‘You need someone to go with you on that journey’ she has said.
The inquest has heard that despite reforms to the family violence intervention order system, too much of the onus remains on victims and perpetrators are often not held accountable for their violence. As well as navigating the complex system it is victims who are expected to report to police if the orders are breached, to contact agencies to have orders enforced and to protect themselves and their children. All this is expected to be done by victims with limited access to support and legal advice, and at significant financial cost.
A number of personnel, including police and child protection workers reported gaps in their formal training around areas like family violence risk assessment and suicidal ideation as a risk factor for violent behaviour.
So many agencies and individuals were involved in Rosie and Luke’s case. In such a complex system, it is essential that all personnel have common understandings and timely sharing of information. Problems with Victoria Police information systems meant opportunities to arrest Greg Anderson were lost and important factors relevant to risk assessment for Rosie and Luke and the granting of bail not fully considered. Information that would have helped Rosie assess risk was not shared with her. She was not informed about charges against Greg Anderson that were relevant to her decisions about how best to navigate the system to protect herself and Luke.
The sense of urgency felt by agencies and individuals involved in the system appears to have been reduced as a result of the failures to share information.
Rosie’s experiences in the justice system and through the inquest show how important legal assistance is for victims of family violence. The Federation of Community Legal Centres is starting a new Legal Services Board funded project next year, to build capacity to help more family members bereaved by family violence homicide go through the coronial process.
Before entering the caretaker period, the Attorney General asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission to review and report on the role of victims in the criminal trial process. While not directly related to coronial processes, this may be an important opportunity to examine how vulnerable victims are supported to engage with the justice system.