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‘Outrageous’: Funding cuts to leave domestic violence victims vulnerable in court

Former Family Court judge Nahum Mushin said the funding cut was outrageous.

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“While I was on the bench, Court Network were visible to me in my court room virtually every day I was sitting in Melbourne and Dandenong,” Mr Mushin said.

“Their work was absolutely invaluable, and the policy of de-funding them in the Family Court is counter-productive to reducing the stresses people operate under.”

A spokeswoman for the Family and Federal Circuit Court said the loss of the volunteers was disappointing.

“Family Law proceedings can be stressful and emotional and the Court Network volunteers have, for very many years, given a helping hand to those in need,” she said.

The volunteers, who wear pink lanyards, have worked across all courts in Victoria for 30 years. They “walk the floor”, approaching people in the court precinct to ask if they need help and explain how the court process works. They physically sit with people who feel unsafe or are distressed, arrange access to secure rooms, organise interpreters, be with witnesses giving evidence in remote rooms and refer people to community services. Their service is free.

Marcia Neave was the Commissioner of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Marcia Neave was the Commissioner of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. Credit:Eddie Jim

“It’s kindness in humanity. People are often terribly distressed, often frightened,” Ms Neave said.

She said Victorian Legal Aid began funding the Court Network three years ago after the federal government pulled its support.

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But recent cuts to Victoria Legal Aid funding mean the Court Network will no longer receive the money it needs to train and supervise volunteers, Ms Neave said.

The funding cut has put the federal and state governments at loggerheads.

On Wednesday, Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said it was the Victorian government’s responsibility to fund the program, while Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said the services were in Commonwealth law courts.

Mr Porter said the Commonwealth had significantly invested in the family law system.

Victoria Legal Aid executive director Peter Noble said there was no requirement for the organisation to provide funding to Court Network and it did so as a “gesture of goodwill”.

“VLA began to take active steps last year to avoid large operating deficits that are forecast in the future due to a range of demand pressures in the justice system. Our priority must be to fund direct legal assistance particularly during this time,” Mr Noble said.

A Department of Justice and Community Safety spokeswoman said the state and Commonwealth governments were negotiating the next five-year agreement for legal assistance funding to start July 1.

About $9.8 million was allocated in the 2019-20 state budget for essential resources for Victorian Courts over four years to support access to justice, including supporting Court Network.

The state government is urging the Commonwealth to increase its contribution.

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