The Women’s Legal Service New South Wales has recently released a report looking at the unintended consequences of the disclosure of sensitive information in Family Law proceedings which involve family violence. 

While the law provides protection of confidentiality and the inadmissibility of records created by certain professionals in some circumstances, other sensitive records can be produced to the Court and, therefore, to the other party, via subpoena, often with no consideration of the impact on victims of domestic violence.

The report was launched by domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty, and it made ten proposals in relation to sharing of records of medical practitioners and psychologists, and subpoenas. 

The report calls for the creation of guidelines to ensure that a victim-focussed approach is taken to obtaining and using sensitive records and that the Family Law system must adopt a broader responsibility to parents of children who are victims of domestic violence. That can be done by ensuring the records of support and counselling services are shielded from the person committing the violence, so that the victims can focus on their recovery and on caring for their children.

The reports calls for the amendment of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Rules to put an onus on the party seeking access to such records, to establish that there is not some other, less intrusive source of evidence available. The report also called for a system to be established to assist victims, counselling and related services to object to responding to subpoenas issued in those Courts, which seek to disclose sensitive information.

It remains to be seen whether these highly desirable reforms will actually be carried out.