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According to the Gold Coast Bulletin and statistics compiled by the volunteer group Impact, there were sixty-two women murdered in Australia last year.  Fifty-six of those were a consequence of domestic violence.  Police data indicates that domestic violence and sexual assault rates on the Gold Coast are on the rise.  To put that in context, Queensland police records indicate that there were 3,175 domestic violence orders breached on the Gold Coast last year, up from 647 in 2010.  This is why front-line workers have been overwhelmed and many women and families have lost faith in the system.  A positive step forward has now been taken with the introduction of the Lighthouse Project and Evatt List.

Renewed focus and attention is being shone on victims of domestic violence through these Court driven projects: Lighthouse Project and Evatt List.  The goal is early risk screening and streamlined case management pathways in an effort to move families out of the family court system as quickly as possible.  The mental health of all parties involved deteriorates rapidly when they are tied up in litigation. With the enactment of these systems the timeframes for a court hearing are greatly reduced.

Once a litigant has been through early risk screening through a secure online platform and admitted into the Evatt List pathway, they are referred to a family counselor.  Within three to five days, the Evatt Registrar starts compiling the necessary information such as 69ZW (ensuring that the most recent DV orders are included), obtaining the 11F report and in some cases a family report.  The Registrar reviews the documents from the police, other courts, and the child welfare department.  Within six to eight weeks the first Court event takes place where any urgent issues are addressed and any evidence and information that is required for trial is gathered and considered.  Within three to six months the second Court event takes place where a trial plan and directions are set out. Within nine to twelve months the matter will be listed and heard at trial before a Judge.

The Lighthouse Project is an on-line platform that looks for high risk indicators to identify and manage safety concerns. High risk cases are referred to a dedicated court list known as the “Evatt List”.  At this point cases of high-risk domestic violence are assessed and triaged by a specialist team with the aim of early identification and management of safety concerns.

When an initiating application or response is filed, the litigant receives a link that invites them to be screened.  There are currently three pilot sites in Brisbane, Adelaide and Paramatta and these are available for parenting only applications.  A victim of domestic violence cannot request for their case to be designated “Evatt List”.  It is a case management decision made by the Court after the risk screening process.  The Registrar does this by looking at the notice of risk, the information that passes from the family counsellor who does the third stage risk assessment to the Registrar and the affidavit.

Evatt Registrars who are attached to the pilot program are involved in early information gathering.  There is a move away from the adversarial system, towards a more inquisitorial process with intensive front end and ongoing case management.  There is a one judge to one family model in order to assist litigants through this process.  The judge is the leader in Evatt cases, but Senior Registrars may hear the case at the Judge’s discretion.

To reiterate, the pathway to the Evatt List is only through the confidential on-line screening platform triggered once proceedings for parenting are initiated.  If the litigant screens high risk, they will be referred to a family counsellor where an assessment as to whether it is an Evatt case matter will be made.  Another benefit of being assessed by a family counsellor for this case management pathway is getting the help that is needed through safety planning and service referral.  There is a very vulnerable litigant population with research showing that 70 per cent of cases that went to trial had allegations of family violence and child abuse, and 38 per cent of cases had four or more of the risk factors (family violence, child abuse, mental health or substance misuse).  Getting a referral for these issues gives the litigant the best opportunity to deal with those issues and improve their parenting.

Once a matter is on the Evatt List it signals to the litigant, the Court and agency that might deal with the case, that this is a case with risk factors such as:

  • Serious abuse, family violence, drug, alcohol or substance misuse; or
  • person experiencing mental health issues which has cause or poses a serious risk of harm (to self or others); or
  • risk of self-harm; or
  • Recent threats to harm a child, a party or other relevant person; or
  • Recent threats or attempts to abduct the child.

The goal is to make the first return date as meaningful as possible.

The traditional case management system employs a telescope approach where every case is treated the same way.  In other words, everyone files as if they are going to a trial even though only a small percentage of litigants actually get there.  The goal of Lighthouse Project and Evatt List is to stop treating every case the same and use differentiated case management in order to apply the level of resources to the level of risk. This allows sufferers of domestic violence to get through litigation faster. It helps them to get on with their lives and parenting their children, by moving them out of the system as effectively as possible.

More information is available on the court’s website – click here to access.

If you require legal assistance please do not hesitate to contact McLaughlins Lawyers on (07) 5591 5099 and speak to one of our highly-skilled lawyers today.

 

Author:                Rebecca Baird

Director:              Sophie Pearson

Date:                    22 June 2021

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