Proposed reforms to the NSW court would mean domestic violence complainants would be able to give evidence remotely or in a closed court, in a move that has been welcomed by those working to stop domestic violence.
Keira Jenkins

21 Oct 2020 - 8:37 PM  UPDATED 21 Oct 2020 - 8:37 PM

Proposed reforms to the NSW courts have been welcomed as a "step in the right direction" but workers in the domestic violence sector say there are still more changes needed to keep women fleeing abuse safe while navigating the justice system.

The changes, proposed by NSW Attorney General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Mark Speakman, would see jurors educated on the complexities of domestic abuse and complainants able to give evidence remotely or in a closed court, if they are passed by the state parliament.

“These reforms aim to ease the burden of the court process on victims so they’re empowered to report abuse and can know they’ll be supported during proceedings,” Mr Speakman said.

Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service (WDVCAS) Aboriginal Specialist Worker and Dunghutti woman Ashleigh Johnstone said these are welcome reforms.

"I think particularly for Indigenous women, the ability to give their evidence remotely or via AVL (audio-visual link) will just help alleviate some concerns they may have around how the community may receive the statements they want to give or the evidence they want to give," she told NITV News.

"It may be able to help them feel more empowered and be able to report domestic violence without then fearing that they're going to be subjected to people watching them give this evidence.

"It would just make them feel a lot more safe to do so."

But Ms Johnstone said there are more changes that need to occur.

She would like to see magistrates and courts that specialise in domestic violence, the end to cross-examination of complainants and increased funding for services that provide safe rooms for women during a hearing.

"These sorts of changes are absolutely within the power of our society to implement," she said.

"None of these things are that complicated or that hard to do and I really think if Covid has taught us anything it's that our court and justice system is able to be changed quite rapidly in response to changes in our society.

"There is absolutely no reason we need to have women subjected to a really traumatising process, which is what they currently experience [when being cross-examined] when we can actually implement changes that are quite simple but will actually make a world of difference for these women."

'Strong, empowered'

Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women's Legal Centre domestic and family violence specialist worker Charmaigne Weldon agreed, saying there needs to be more changes to make the courts a safe place for survivors.

"I would love to see the specialised courts and for the justice system to be a little more trauma informed," she said.

Ms Weldon said it is also important for women to feel safe before and after the court process. She said it is important not to forget that violence can even escalate after a court process.

"We need those support services all the way through the process for women, to keep her strong, empowered and ensuring her safety after a court process, especially for our Aboriginal women is imperative," she said.

But Ms Weldon said women's services have been fighting hard for these reforms so they're welcome changes to the court system.

"It'll be great to see the jury get training around domestic and family violence and sexual assault so that the judicial system is more educated around domestic violence and it's taken seriously," she said.

"It's great that we've got this far and women's services have been wanting this for a very long time."

OPINION: Addressing the issue of violence in our communities
We continue to witness systemic and structural violence being inflicted on Black bodies through the harm caused by racist policies, negligent acts, and omissions in service delivery by employees of the system, writes Dr Marlene Longbottom.