Family Chief Justice pleads for funds ‘to prevent child death’

So ran the heading of an article in The Australian on 30 March. The Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant stated that the Court did not have the resources it needs to protect parents and children from violence and admits it may be failing some families. Her Honour went on to say that the Courts needed an extra $20 million for more family consultants to help Judges manage cases. 

More money is not the cure

I have now been in practice as a Family Lawyer for 42 years, 41 of those under the Family Law Act, which started in 1976. During all of that time the Courts have complained that they are overworked, underpaid and under staffed. That is no doubt the case, but the Courts are the last resort of people trying to resolve their relationship disputes. It is, or at least it should be, that people go to Court after all other attempts to settle their problems, including family violence issues, have failed. 

In my opinion, having been involved in numerous cases over the last four decades where there has been family violence (no, it didn’t just start in the last few years), the problem is not going to be cured by putting more money into the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court to hear cases, to punish the perpetrators and support the victims. That is an end solution - the problem starts much earlier. 

Stop the problem before it starts

What, I believe, is needed is work (and that of course requires money) to stop the problem before it starts. In a society where we take our children to sporting matches and see cricketers “sledging” (verbally abusing) their opponents and footballers openly brawling on the field, it is little wonder that our children grow up believing that violence is almost a necessary part of life. 

While I am not advocating that there should be no ‘rough and tumble’ in contact sports, when I went to school I was taught that you never, ever, quarrelled with the umpires, or even openly disagreed with their decisions. 

Without harking back to “the good old days” there is no doubt that society has changed dramatically in the last half century. The decline of parental guidance, teaching children right from wrong, and the lessening of the discipline imposed by the schools and churches (without getting into the awful problems of paedophiles) have all led to a breakdown of behavioural standards, which has led to family violence. 

Early education is key

This is all very well you may say - he’s sounding off about how things ain’t what they used to be, but what to do about it?  While I support Chief Justice Bryant’s plea for more money for the Courts administering the Family Law Act, there really need to be funds made available for educating children, even down to primary school level, that violence should not be part of their lives and that there are much better ways to solve arguments. 

Punishing the offenders of violence is of course necessary, but by that stage it is often too late to change their behaviour. The Courts routinely send perpetrators of domestic violence off to behaviour change courses which are sometimes successful, but if they understood at a much earlier stage of their lives that such behaviour is not tolerated, rather than being a normal way to behave, that would go a long way towards alleviating the problem, at least for the generation of children still at school. 

It is encouraging to see that the Victorian State Government has agreed to implement all 127 Recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, some of which address the issue of early education of children so that family violence can become socially unacceptable throughout the community.