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New laws pave way for Federal court family-violence and risk screening project

Australia’s Family and Federal Circuit Court Chief Justice has welcomed newly minted laws passed this week giving the courts the green light to implement its new family-violence and risk screening initiative – the Lighthouse Project.

Family and FCC Chief Justice Will Alstegren yesterday (Nov 11) said they are delighted that the Family Law Amendment (Risk Screening Protections) Bill 2020 had been passed by the Australian Parliament on Monday (Nov 9).

Chief Justice Alstegren said the new laws were a significant milestone in the progression of the critical court initiative the Lighthouse Project.

The Lighthouse Project is a ground-breaking and innovative and allows Courts to screen for risk and focus on public health and improved outcomes for families involved in the family law system.

In early July, QLS Proctor revealed the launch of the Lighthouse Project in three key regions, including Brisbane, to provide guidance and support for families experiencing, or at risk of, domestic and family violence.

The Commonwealth Government has earmarked $13.5 million to fund a “risk-screening and triage” pilot program at Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia registries in Brisbane, Adelaide and Parramatta.

Brisbane-based Family Court and Federal Circuit Court practice and procedure registrar Lisa O’Neill told QLS Proctor the project would improve the safety of litigants who may have experienced family violence and children who may have experienced associated risks such as child abuse.

“The Lighthouse Project – formally known as the Risk-Screening and Triage Pilot – is the name given to the overarching project created to develop the pilot and its interconnected processes,” Ms O’Neill said.

“Lighthouse Project was chosen as it represents the objective of the pilot, to provide guidance and support to families experiencing or at risk of family violence, and other risk behaviours such as substance misuse or mental health concerns.

“Much as a lighthouse provides light and a navigation waypoint for ships, warning of dangerous coasts or guiding them into ports, the Lighthouse Project will play a central role in the courts’ response to cases which may involve family violence and determining the urgency and resources provided to such cases.

 “It will also improve the safety of litigants who may have experienced family violence and children who may have experienced associated risks such as child abuse.”

Ms O’Neill said the project had also seen the creation of the Evatt List, which identifies cases of high-risk litigants.

Chief Justice Alstegren yesterday said the passing of the laws had paved the way for the courts to prepare and officially commence the new screening process in selected registries before the end of the year.

“The safety of children and families is the highest priority for our Courts,’’ he said.

“Our operations are centred on two key elements – risk and responsiveness.

“We are ensuring that family violence considerations are embedded in all of our practice and procedure and the passing of this legislation now allows the Courts to implement a major project that is focussed on the safety of children and families. “It is a pioneering project internationally and has already been recognized by the QLD Government for its family violence initiatives.

Details of the Bill are available here.

Details of the Lighthouse Project are available here and here.

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