POLITICS

New Laws Will Protect Domestic Violence Victims From Cross-Examination By Alleged Abusers

Changes to spare 're-traumatisation' of victims.

17/07/2017 3:03 PM AEST | Updated 17/07/2017 3:52 PM AEST

Victims of family and domestic violence will be protected from being cross-examined in court by their alleged aggressors, under new laws proposed by the federal government.

Attorney-General George Brandis released draft amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 on Monday, which would prevent alleged perpetrators of domestic violence directly interrogating their alleged victims during court proceedings. In many family law cases, the parties represent themselves in court, meaning victims have to come face-to-face with -- and be directly grilled by -- the person they allege had abused them.

"The draft amendments see a legislative ban on self-represented parties conducting direct cross-examination where one party is convicted or charged of an offence involving violence against another party. The court will also have discretion to disallow direct cross-examination in other matters where there are allegations of family violence," Brandis said in a release.

"The draft amendments respond to concerns that family violence victims may experience further trauma from being directly cross-examined by their alleged perpetrators. This issue has been the subject of consultation with stakeholders and was identified as a key area of reform by the federal, state and territory governments at the 2016 COAG National Summit on reducing violence against women and their children."

In a consultation paper, the Attorney-General's department wrote that being cross-examined by their alleged perpetrator "potentially exposes victims to re-traumatisation and can affect their ability to give clear evidence."

Under the amendments, which are currently up for consultation and open for submissions on the Attorney-General's website, will see a court-appointed representative ask questions on behalf of the alleged perpetrator.

"If the examining party is not represented by a legal practitioner, then the examining party must not cross-examine the witness party personally; any questions that the examining party would like to ask the witness party in cross-examination must instead be asked by a person appointed by the court; unless the court grants leave," part of the draft amendments read.

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"The court must not grant leave... unless both parties consent to the cross-examination by the
examining party of the witness party personally; and the court has considered whether the cross-examination will adversely affect the ability of the witness party to testify under the cross-examination and the examining party to conduct the cross-examination; and the court has considered whether the cross-examination will have a harmful impact on the party who is the alleged victim of the family violence."

In layman's terms, if the laws pass in the current form, alleged perpetrators will not be allowed to directly cross-examine their victims unless the victim and the court both agree, and if not, the perpetrator will have their questions asked by a court representative.

Submissions to the consultation close on August 25. More information is available on the A-G's website.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.

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