Judges role play to better understand family violence

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Judges acted the role of victims of family violence in a practical session at the Judicial College’s court craft education program last week.

The role play was a feature of the communications focus of ‘Best Practice Court Craft in a Family Violence Context’.

The program – for judges, magistrates and tribunal members – was chaired by Judge Wendy Wilmoth of the County Court.

Setting the scene in his opening address, the President of the Court of Appeal Justice Chris Maxwell said there was a hidden danger with family violence.

‘It’s what you can’t see that is the most potent,’ he said, and expert evidence was a necessity to understand the behaviour of an abused woman or man.

The program aimed to assist judicial officers to manage their courtroom or tribunal room and deal fairly with people who appear before them in a family violence context by using best practice language and behaviour.

Magistrate Anne Goldsbrough and former family violence applicant support worker Abbey Newman conducted a highly practical session looking at the impact of trauma on people in a court and how to communicate sensitively and appropriately with women and families of alleged victims.

This was followed by a session on ‘Communicating with People who use Violence’, focussing on perpetrator narratives, best communication strategies and using the appropriate judicial language to avoid colluding with men who use violence.

Presenters Scott Mills and Trent Larkman from the No to Violence men’s referral service conducted the session to give new perspectives to participants. And the role playing did just that.

After the role play, the Honourable Marcia Neave, who chaired the Royal Commission into Family Violence, said she appreciated that even the most experienced person always had more to learn.

She said that playing a role allowed her to recognise the experience of being a victim without closing the possibility off that a perpetrator can change his behaviour.

In the afternoon, VCAT Senior Member Brendan Hoysted and Family Violence Support Worker Jo Staunton presented a session on managing cases where family violence is not a direct issue.

In closing the day with interviews and improvisation performances, Playback Theatre’s Mike McEvoy interviewed VCAT Deputy President Genevieve Nihill and Member Di Bates about how scared parties can be when they come to court, how much tension can be in the room, and how tribunal members can best assist to relieve the tension.

Playback Theatre performers then acted out a story on the pressure experienced by a self-represented litigant daunted by impenetrable judicial language and process.

Photo: Justice Chris Maxwell and Judge Wendy Wilmoth with Scott Mills and Trent Larkman, from No to Violence


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