Legal profession rallies to support domestic violence relief

The Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO with Cybele Koning, the 2021 'Dame Quentin Bryce Domestic Violence Prevention Award winner, and 2021 QLS President Elizabeth Shearer.

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

This morning’s annual ‘Legal Profession Breakfast’ event, hosted by Women’s Legal Service Queensland (WLSQ), saw hundreds of legal professionals come together in support of women and children affected by domestic and family abuse.

WLSQ offers free legal and social work support to Queensland women who have been impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault and complex family law issues. All proceeds from the 2021 Legal Profession Breakfast go towards helping WLSQ staff and volunteers continue to create safer futures and provide legal and welfare assistance free of charge to women and their children who experience domestic violence.

The Honourable Margaret McMurdo AC was the keynote speaker at today’s Legal Profession Breakfast held at Brisbane City Hall.

Chair of the Queensland Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce the Honourable Margaret McMurdo AC in her keynote address, said that, although there have been widespread improvements in Queensland’s response to domestic violence, there was still much work to be done.

“To better keep women and children safe, police, legal practitioners and judicial officers must change the criminal justice system response to domestic violence,” she said. “They must hear womens’ voices and move from a purely incident-based focus to one which responds to the patterns-nature of domestic violence, including coercive control, in the context of the whole relationship.”

Ms McMurdo said the average victim left and returned 12 times before finally leaving the perpetrator permanently. She said the taskforce recently called for submissions about personal experiences of domestic, family and sexual violence in the criminal justice system, and the response had so far been overwhelming.

“I have learnt that coercive control is a pattern of deliberate and rational behaviour designed by one person to control another person in a person’s relationship,” she said. “This is done by causing the victim to fear for their or someone else’s safety.

“One victim’s account was ‘I walked on eggshells and my purpose was his happiness and keeping him from getting upset. If I questioned his behaviour, I was made to feel that I was selfish, and ended up begging for his forgiveness’.

“The perpetrator erodes the victim’s ability to make rational choices. The victim has come to believe they are worthless, useless and only the perpetrator would put up with them and the children.”

Ms McMurdo said the vast majority of submissions strongly supported broad community education on coercive control and healthy relationships, and she was encouraged to hear that many legal stakeholders held a genuine desire to improve the justice system’s understanding of, and response to, domestic and family violence.

“Legal stakeholder submissions generally supported, or conditionally supported, using existing legislation more effectively to prosecute domestic violence, including coercive control, and creating a standalone coercive control offence,” she said. “Victims, including many First Nations women, are demanding a system which provides greater safety and generally they support criminalisation.”

The Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO announced this morning’s award recipient.

Former Governor-General of Australia the Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO presented Caxton Legal Centre CEO Cybele Koning with the ‘Dame Quentin Bryce Domestic Violence Prevention Advocate Award’. The award recognises a Queensland legal professional who has demonstrated outstanding commitment and contribution to the prevention of domestic violence in Queensland.

Cybele Koning has made a significant contribution to responding to the abuse of older persons experiencing intergenerational violence through law reform submissions, community consultations and advisory groups. She initiated the first health justice partnership in Queensland to address family violence experienced by older persons, which now operates in seven locations.

“There is not a working day that goes by when I’m not asking myself how we can all better work together to address the extraordinary barriers and exclusions faced by women experiencing violence,” she said. “Especially for those experiencing multiple and intersecting disadvantage and exclusion.

“I think one of our greatest challenges in the future is going to be how we design and implement proven interventions for users of violence. I’ve done a lot of work with respondents over the years – it’s a complex phenomenon and only a nuanced approach is going to work.”

Queensland Law Society President Elizabeth Shearer said that, although the journey was far from over, she was pleased to have seen a significant shift in the community’s outlook on domestic violence in recent decades.

“When I was a new lawyer, domestic violence was the concern of only a few feminist lawyers who saw that protection from violence was a fundamental human right,” she said. “The prevailing societal attitude was that it was a private matter and the law had no business interfering. We really have come a long way.

“Lawyers are every day working with people who have been subject to domestic and family violence so that their reality is recognised in our systems of criminal and civil justice.”

Over $24,500 was raised for WLSQ at this morning’s event, attended by over 550 people connected to the legal profession including judges, members of parliament, law firms, barristers, solicitors, legal academics, police officers, businesses, government, students as well as members of the broader community.

For more information about Women’s Legal Service Queensland or to support the cause, visit the website.

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