Australian Institute of Criminology

Skip to content

The Family Violence Intervention Program

Overview

FVIP is the ACT’s coordinated response to family violence incidents that come to the attention of the police and proceed to prosecution. The FVIP’s inception was largely a response to concerns that family violence issues were not being taken seriously by criminal justice agencies (Holder & Caruana 2006). The ACT Community Law Reform Committee’s (1995) Report 9: Domestic Violence identified a number of areas requiring strengthening across the system-level response to family violence and made recommendations for an interagency response. This recommendation was accepted by the ACT Government in 1996 and FVIP was established in July 1998.

The overarching objectives of FVIP are to:

  • work cooperatively together;
  • maximise safety and protection for victims of family violence;
  • provide opportunities for offender accountability and rehabilitation; and
  • work towards continual improvement of FVIP.

Governance

FVIP lacks a legislative basis for its existence and operation. Instead, it operates under the direction of protocols established at its inception in 1998. A 2004 MoA to which Chief Executives of key participating agencies are signatories governs the operation of FVIP Coordinating Committee.

These key FVIP partners are:

  • Australian Federal Police (ACT Policing);
  • ODPP;
  • ACT Magistrates’ Court;
  • ACTCS;
  • DVCS;
  • OCYFS;
  • Policy and Regulatory Division, JaCS; and
  • The Office of VoCC.

Each partner agency has responsibility for its own mandate to fulfil its obligations to the community through its practices and/or statutory authority. These roles and responsibilities are diverse and cover investigation, evidence collection, arrest and charge functions, prosecution, presenting evidence to the court, hearing of evidence, supporting victim witnesses, determination of guilt, sentencing, supervision of court orders, facilitation of rehabilitation programs, referral to program providers and victim advocacy and support.

In order to ensure coordination of these disparate functions, as well as collaboration and information sharing between agencies, FVIP is implemented by a coordinating committee. This committee is represented by senior manager through director-level representatives of key partner agencies. Representatives from Legal Aid ACT, the ACT Law Society and Victim Support ACT also participate in the committee.

Since commencement of FVIP, VoCC has acted as chair, secretariat and facilitator, and has identified data and information needs for FVIPCC. VoCC is also the Domestic Violence Project Coordinator, a statutory appointment under the Domestic Violence Agencies Act 1986, whose functions facilitate the collection of data from FVIP agencies and support the role of VoCC.

The 2004 MoA sets out the governance arrangements for FVIPCC. Under this Agreement, the coordinating committee’s role includes:

  • acting as the forum for discussion about strategic planning and coordination of FVIP;
  • maintaining policy and procedural frameworks;
  • developing responses to systemic and emerging issues in criminal family violence matters;
  • making recommendations on gaps in services for government action and law reform;
  • receiving statistical reports; and
  • co-ordinating and developing interagency training.

Partner agencies are also committed to strategic planning undertaken in phases. FVIP is currently in its sixth phase of development with a focus on review and reinvigoration. Activities underpinning previous phases established broad policy frameworks, baseline measures and interventions, researched and developed new initiatives that were tested and externally evaluated, extended the practice model to the ACT Region as a whole and consolidated the specialist jurisdiction of the model (Holder & Caruana 2006).

Legislation and policy context

Though FVIP itself lacks a legislative basis, each participating organisation operates under legislation and policy specific to their roles and responsibilities in the administration of justice and/or victim support.

In ACT legislation, family violence is referred to as domestic violence. During the review period, the relevant legislation defining this type of violence was the Domestic Violence and Protection Orders Act 2001 (see Box 1), which was repealed in March 2009 and replaced by the Domestic Violence and Protection Orders Act 2008. Under this Act, domestic violence offences include contraventions of protection orders and offences against the provisions of various other Acts, outlined in Schedule 1, including the Crimes Act 1900.

FVIP operates within the context of an overarching ACT Government policy framework, Justice, options and prevention—working to make the lives of ACT women safe (2003), oriented towards the safety of women and their children.

Under this framework, three outcomes are sought—protection and justice, options for women and prevention of violence. Agencies that deliver services under FVIP attempt to meet the first noted outcome of protection and justice through the delivery of a justice system that provides protection, support and advocacy for all victims of family violence.

Box 1 Definition of domestic violence
Domestic Violence and Protection Orders Act 2001 (repealed)

s 9 a person’s conduct is domestic violence if it:

  1. causes physical injury to a relevant person; or
  2. causes damage to the property of a relevant person; or
  3. is directed at a relevant person and is a domestic violence offence; or
  4. is a threat, made to a relevant person, to do anything in relation to the relevant person or another relevant person that, if done, would fall under paragraph (a), (b) or (c); or
  5. is harassing or offensive to a relevant person; or
  6. is directed at a pet of a relevant person and is an animal violence offence; or
  7. is a threat, made to a relevant person, to do anything to a pet of the person or another relevant person that, if done, would be an animal violence offence.

From the legislation dictionary:

relevant person, in relation to a person (the original person), means—

  1. a domestic partner of the original person; or (Note A domestic partner need not be an adult (see Legislation Act s169)
  2. a relative of the original person; or
  3. a child of a domestic partner of the original person; or
  4. a parent of a child of the original person.

s 10A For this Act, a relative of a person (the original person)—

  1. means the original person’s—
    1. father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, stepfather, stepmother, father-in-law or mother-in –law; or
    2. son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, stepson, stepdaughter, son-in-law or daughter-in-law; or
    3. brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, stepbrother, stepsister, brother-in-law or sister-in-law; or
    4. uncle, aunt, uncle-in-law or aunt-in-law; or
    5. nephew, niece or cousin; and
  2. if the original person has or had a domestic partner (other than a spouse)—includes someone who would have been a relative of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a) if the original person had been legally married to the domestic partner; and
  3. includes—
    1. someone who has been a relative of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of the original person; and
    2. anyone else who could reasonably be considered to be a relative of the original person.

Core components of the Family Violence Intervention Program

The core components of FVIP (see Table 1) reflect the activities of FVIP partners during the 2007–08 time period from which relevant data was extracted for this review. Some recent changes to legislation and practice are described under Time for action.

Table 1: Core components of the Family Violence Intervention Program
Component Key responsible agencies
Pro-charge, pro-arrest and presumption against bail ACT Policing
Early provision of victim support DVCS
Prosecution policy ODPP
Coordination and case management All
Rehabilitation of offenders ACTCS
Program administration, data analysis and strategic direction VoCC

Pro-charge, pro-arrest and presumption against bail

ACT Policing is responsible for the investigation of all incidents of family violence reported to them. Officers are equipped with Family Violence Investigator Kits to assist in their investigations of alleged family violence. Where there is available evidence of an offence, the full range of charges are laid and the alleged offender may be arrested. Decisions to charge and arrest remain the officer’s discretion (within their legislative powers) and should not be influenced by the wishes of the victim. Section 9F(2) of the Bail Act 1992 requires an authorised officer not to grant bail, where a person is charged with a domestic violence offence, unless satisfied that the person poses no danger to a protected person while released on bail.

Within ACT Policing, the leader of the Intervention Team is responsible for overseeing administrative responsibilities to FVIP and providing advice to members on the investigation of family violence incidents. Victim Liaison Officers, whose role pre-dates the commencement of FVIP, support members in meeting their obligations under the Victims of Crime Act 1994. ACT Policing provides a three day training program for new recruits, a one day package for Police Operations and refresher training as required.

Early provision of victim support

DVCS is the authorised crisis service organisation under the Domestic Violence Agencies Act 1986. DVCS has protocols with the ODPP and OCYFS in relation to its work with family violence matters. The relationship between ACT Policing and DVCS is supported by a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two agencies. Under the MoU, DVCS is to be contacted to attend all police callouts in relation to family violence matters. DVCS services are offered by the police to victims at the time of the incident and if accepted, DVCS provides support. Potential clients may also contact DVCS directly through their crisis support line. In addition to crisis support, DVCS may provide ongoing support, advocacy, court support and case status and other information to victims who choose to use their service.

Prosecution policy

Prosecutions in all offences (including family violence offences) are rigorously undertaken where there is a reasonable prospect of conviction, taking into account all admissible evidence. Once this test is satisfied, the further test that is applied is whether it is in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution. ODPP’s role is to ensure that evidence is presented before the court about a charge or in the determination of bail. Within ODPP, there are specialist positions for family violence prosecutors and since 2004, a Family Violence Team. This specialist team enhances ODPP’s ability to apply family violence experience and expertise to prosecutions that are supported by best practice guidelines. The Team comprises several prosecutors who appear in the majority of family violence matters in the Magistrates and Supreme Court. The Team also includes a witness assistant and specialist paralegals who provide significant support and assistance to all prosecutors, victims and witnesses.

One of the challenges in family violence prosecutions is the number of complainants who ask to have the proceedings discontinued before finalisation. The ODPP Family Violence Team approach is to proceed with the prosecution where there is sufficient evidence. Reluctant victim witnesses are supported by one of the ODPP’s Witness Assistants.

Coordination and case management

Agencies collaborate to identify and fast-track family violence matters through the court system. Family violence charges are tagged at the charging stage by the police and once before the Magistrates’ Court, are transferred to the specialist family violence list. Some family violence matters are committed to the Supreme Court for trial. The majority of family violence charges are prosecuted in the Magistrates’ Court and heard by the designated Family Violence Magistrate.

ODPP works with ACT Policing to ensure adequate evidence collection and to advise on charges. ACT Policing Victim Liaison Officers, the ODPP Witness Assistants and the DVCS support workers provide services that support victims by providing information, court support and counselling. In cases involving children or young people, as either victims or offenders, OCYFS may be involved.

Weekly case tracking of family violence matters is undertaken by ACT Policing, the ODPP Witness Assistant, Care and Protection Services, OCYFS and DVCS. While there was a lapse in representation during 2007, ACTCS has regularly attended this meeting since May 2008. Case tracking allows agencies to monitor how matters are progressing and identify potential concerns for victims.

The Intervention Team within ACT Policing presents a three day family violence training package to all police recruits. ODPP prosecutors deliver relevant lectures during this training to ensure ACT Policing members are familiar with all aspects of the investigative and prosecution phases of family violence intervention. DVCS and other agencies also deliver modules relevant to their role and responsibilities. Training is an integral role of FVIP and aims to ensure that the investigation of family violence matters is as current and comprehensive as possible. DVCS also provides training to community members and other agencies in relation to the dynamics of family violence. OCYFS provides training on mandatory and voluntary reporting of child abuse and neglect.

Rehabilitation of offenders

The majority of convicted offenders in the Australian Capital Territory do not receive custodial sentences. They are often dealt with by way of a good behaviour order (GBO) and, if convicted of a family violence offence and placed under the supervision of the Probation and Parole Unit of ACTCS, are able to gain access to a range of interventions. Most family violence offenders are found suitable for some type of intervention including the Family Violence Self-Change (FVSC) Program facilitated by the Offender Interventions Unit. A brief description of factors that may affect suitability and other interventions that may be undertaken can be found in the FVSC Program participation section later in this report.

The FVSC Program is a cognitive skills module-based program. The program is run in groups with open entry dates. Offenders who are assessed as suitable to undertake the program are supported to work through the modules by program facilitators. The program is designed to create awareness of the attitudes that lead individuals to commit hurtful, harmful and illegal behaviours. Participants are asked to identify the feelings and triggers that lead them to engage in violent behaviours. They are then encouraged to explore alternative ways of behaving through a process of cognitive restructuring.

A key component of the FVSC Program is contact with the victims of persons participating in the program. During the review period, victim contact was undertaken by CentaCare. Currently this component is undertaken by the Victim Liaison Officer of ACTCS and will be going out to tender. Victim contact is initially made to provide victims with general information about the FVSC Program and expectations of participants. Participants are advised by ACTCS program facilitators that this contact will be made. Victims are asked to consent to ongoing contact and if they agree, may be contacted if concerns for their safety are identified through the offender’s participation in the program. Victims may also contact the provider of contact services to identify ongoing concerns or to ask questions.

Program administration, data analysis and strategic direction

Since 1998, the Office of the VoCC has performed the role of chair and convenor of the Coordinating Committee. In this capacity, VoCC facilitates strategic direction and planning, interagency relationships and program innovations such as research and evaluation, conferences and seminars. VoCC provides opportunities for strengthening interagency collaboration and presentation of agency roles under FVIP. The Office provides secretariat support to FVIPCC, organises planning and review, and collates annual collection of agency data. Data is published and made publicly available by VoCC at irregular intervals in evaluation reports.