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Senior Judicial Registrar Lisa O’Neill of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia was a finalist in the Dame Quentin Bryce Award. Photo: Supplied

Senior Judicial Registrar Lisa O’Neill had a vision to create a beacon of hope through the dark moments in domestic and family violence matters. This vision became Lighthouse, a risk-screening process for family law disputes.  

Employed at the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, Lisa was named as a finalist at the 2023 Dame Quentin Bryce Domestic Violence Prevention Advocate Award last week.   

The award, presented at the Legal Profession Ball fundraiser for the Women’s Legal Service Queensland, recognises the contribution, commitment, and professionalism of an individual in the Queensland legal profession who has demonstrated outstanding dedication and action towards the prevention of domestic violence.

Chief Justice Will Alstergren AO congratulated Lisa on her worthy nomination and for being listed as one of six finalists.

“Lisa’s career has been underpinned by a quiet but steadfast approach and unwavering commitment to the prevention of family and domestic violence in Queensland, and nationally,” Chief Justice Alstergren said.

“The many thousands of families that come before the courts have been the beneficiaries of this commitment, as it was Lisa’s vision which led to the creation of the courts’ world-leading risk screening initiative, Lighthouse

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“That vision focused on how to introduce a process to screen litigants for family violence as soon as they entered the court system to help ensure the safety of families and children involved in family law disputes.

“Lighthouse and the (high-risk) Evatt List have become instrumental in assisting families and providing the Courts with valuable insight into the nature of risk and experiences of parties at the point of filing, and we acknowledge Lisa’s significant contribution.

“Lisa’s work also involves sitting on high-risk cases that have been referred to the Evatt List, where she interacts with and hears directly from families who have complex issues that involve allegations of serious family violence and have other risk factors.”

Lisa said she was “incredibly honoured and humbled, firstly for having been nominated for this award, and to have been a finalist”.

“In regard to the creation of Lighthouse, I could see a desperate need for the court system to not only provide sound legal outcomes, but to also focus on better health outcomes for families by providing avenues to support mental wellbeing, and social support such as financial counselling, rehabilitation programs and parenting programs,” she said.

“I have enjoyed a diverse career that has focused on the wellbeing of vulnerable women and children. 

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“My work as an Independent Children’s Lawyer, as an advocate in inquests and child protection and in family law litigation, at the Childrens Commission and developing domestic violence training for Queensland Magistrates has provided a unique opportunity to consider the wellbeing of families experiencing family violence from multiple perspectives. 

“All of that experience was invested in Lighthouse. I am very proud to have been named as a finalist and for that, I thank Angela Lynch for her nomination.”

Angela, a Queensland-based lawyer and leading Domestic Violence Prevention Advocate, said “Lisa has dedicated her professional life to advocating for and improving the outcomes of victims of domestic and family violence both in her work in private practice and her work at the Magistrates Court and the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.

“She was also a key driver behind the establishment of the world-leading Lighthouse project and Evatt List. Lisa was a most-deserved finalist in this prestigious award.”

Queensland Law Society Immediate Past President Kara Thomson, who introduced the finalists, said the judges had a difficult task.

“I would like to acknowledge the judges who have had the prestigious but challenging task of selecting a winner out of this year’s field of outstanding nominees,” Kara said.

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“Congratulations to all nominees. It is heartening to see the great work that is being conducted by the profession to continue the legacy of care.”

Lighthouse is an internally recognised initiative which provides a safe, confidential opportunity for parties involved in family law disputes to express concern about safety risks.

Since the national expansion which started in November 2022, parties in more than 75 per cent of eligible matters have completed the risk screen and the counsellors have conducted more than 5600 case file reviews for high-risk parties. More than 1400 matters have been placed on the Evatt List, which is the courts’ specialist high-risk list.

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