Isolation amidst the COVID-19 pandemic can be a frightening proposition if you are experiencing family violence. Whilst for most of us our home is a haven, for 1 in 6 Australian women it is a place of fear. We have seen from China’s experience that family violence incidents surged following the forced lockdown period.
In different circumstances, an intervention order is an effective means of providing immediate protection and forcing a separation from a partner in circumstances of violence. But how accessible is an intervention order in the current COVID-19 pandemic?
How do I apply for an Intervention Order in these circumstances?
The answer to that is unclear. While the Courts in the family law jurisdiction will remain open to provide support to those experiencing family violence throughout any lockdown period, it’s not clear how quickly the Courts will be able to respond, or whether the standard process can in fact be adopted with the current government restrictions.
The Magistrates’ Court of Victoria has released practice directions in light of the extensive changes to appeal cases, convictions and all committal hearings.
Victoria County Court chief judge Peter Kidd said the courts are currently addressing the “most challenging crisis in recent memory”. This means wide-ranging changes across courts state-wide, including extensive deviations in the Magistrates’ Court.
In light of the changes currently now in operation, the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria has released four direction notes for the civil jurisdiction, family violence protection and personal safety, criminal proceedings, and Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal. The direction notes state:
“The Magistrates’ Court of Victoria is committed to serving our community as we face the COVID-19 crisis, … All our courts across the state remain open.
After hearing from health experts, it is however necessary that we reduce the number of people in our court buildings and this requires us to change some aspects of our practice.”
Cases across the family law jurisdiction are being adjourned, and various new listing time frames apply in relation to intervention orders under the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 and intervention order applications under the Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act 2010. New listing timeframes also apply to applications under the Family Law Act 1975 and relating to firearms.
First listing dates for urgent applications, particularly in high-risk circumstances, will be issued on a case-by-case basis. These include family violence safety notices issued by police.
Unless otherwise ordered by the court, listings will be adjourned to 15 June 2020. The direction notes state that “The nominal date of 15 June 2020 has been allocated to allow time for planning of future listings. This will ensure that the [court] can manage demand and give priority to the most urgent proceedings. … It is intended that, prior to 15 June 2020, the [court] will advise the parties of a new hearing date as new listing arrangements are developed.”
Practical safety planning tips for those experiencing family violence
Navigating these circumstances will be more challenging than ever before, but we have provided some practical steps to assist victims of family violence in safety planning in an attempt to reduce risk of harm:
- Find a friend and confidante. If you have not already confided in someone close to you around issues of fear and potential risk, it’s not too late. Find an opportunity to connect with someone you trust and develop a “safe word” or even an emoji to signal if you need help.
- Check your electronic devices are safe. Disconnect from any family accounts, and look for any other tracking devices, as best you can. If you have concerns that your information is being tracked, try and access a new phone, or start a new account, if you can.
- Download a personal safety app and utilise support services. Safety apps may help to increase your safety when using devices like mobile phones, iPads and tablets. They can be downloaded to your device. Each app has different information and services, and some are linked to where you live. You don’t need to be experiencing violence or abuse to use a safety app. A list of available apps can be found here.
You should try where possible to utilise your friends and family to check on you and confirm your safety, but also remember you can utilise online and telephone support services if you are able to do so. 1800RESPECT provides a confidential information, counselling and support service, further information for which can be found here.
- Being safer in the home. If you are worried about your physical safety and matters are escalating at home, be aware of potential escape routes and avoid being in rooms, where there is no quick exit. If an argument is escalating, try and stay away from certain rooms, such as the kitchen.
- Call 000 in an emergency. Risk to your life comes before isolation and social distancing. Our police and other essential services are still operating, so in the event of an emergency, rather than using an app it may be best to simply call 000. When you call, you will be able to speak with a 000-emergency operator, explain exactly what’s going on, where you are, what type of service you need, and get information about when emergency response teams will arrive. Most phones allow you to make emergency calls without even unlocking the phone, in less than two taps.
If you are separated from your partner, but still in fear in your home, organisations such as the Protective Group are still operating to provide safety assessments of your home, and to assist in installing safety and protective devices.
However, if you need an intervention order. for your own personal protection, we recommend contacting the police, or your family lawyer for direction at first instance. Our family law team are working remotely through the COVID-19 crisis and are available to assist. We can be contacted by calling (03) 9663 9877 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.