Chief Justice to launch family violence risk-screening project on Gold Coast

Australia’s Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Chief Justice will this morning launch a ground-breaking new family violence and risk-screening initiative on the Gold Coast.

Chief Justice Will Alstergren is scheduled to launch the initiative – dubbed the Lighthouse Project — during his address to the 2020 National STOP Domestic Violence conference at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre, at Broadbeach, this morning.

In early July, QLS Proctor revealed details 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 Lighthouse Project initiative allows courts to screen for risk and focus on public health and improved outcomes for families involved in the family law system.

Chief Justice Alstergren told QLS Proctor of his views on the important role support services play in helping separating couples and their families.

He said that, although the legal profession played a significant role, it had been important to listen to those who operate at the “coalface”.

“The level of family violence in our society is a disgrace,” Chief Justice Alstergren said. “We as a community cannot accept the number of deaths every week, month or year, or the number of people scarred for life physically, or mentally.

“For too long, the process of separation and divorce has been viewed largely as a legal issue. But we know, it is much broader than that. The courts’ innovative Lighthouse Project places significant attention on the health, safety and wellbeing of separating couples.

“As a modern court operating in the family law jurisdiction, our role is in early risk identification and responsiveness to those risks.

“The confidential risk-screening process will enable the courts, at the very early stages of a parenting case filed in the pilot locations, to triage the matter.

“Our specialised in-house family counsellors will help litigants navigate the process, assist in safety planning and refer families to appropriate health and other services.”

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

The Lighthouse Project is a three-year pilot program to screen for risk through the innovative use of a confidential web-based risk-screening platform called Family DOORS Triage.

Cases identified as ‘high risk’ will be referred to a list known as the Evatt List, in which matters will go before one of 10 specialist judges who have been selected for their experience and training in the area of family violence. Judges will be assisted by a highly skilled team that includes registrars and family consultants.

Last month, the Federal Government passed new legislation – the Family Law Amendment (Risk Screening Protections) Bill 2020 – to pave the wave for the initiative.

The project will commence in Adelaide from 7 December and Brisbane and Parramatta on 11 January. It is also expected to be rolled out to all Family Court registries throughout 2021.

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