Magistrates’ Court working with Mildura’s Aboriginal community to improve court responses and family safety
Members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community experiencing family violence can now access specialised support with the launch of new Magistrates’ Court Victoria services at Mildura Law Courts.
Umalek Balit, which means give strength in Woiwurrung – the language of the Wurundjeri people, is a dedicated Koori family violence and victim support program that is designed to address the specific barriers faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when attending court and interacting with the justice system.
The service includes women’s and men’s practitioners who will work with Aboriginal women and men to guide them through the court’s family violence related response. The practitioners will provide culturally relevant non-legal expertise in relation to family violence intervention order (FVIO), criminal matters arising from family violence and Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal applications.
Mildura is the second site to offer Umalek Balit, following the launch at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court in November 2018. These services increase the court’s capacity to safely and effectively respond to Aboriginal family members. Umalek Balit is uniquely placed to respond to the dynamic risk factors that impact on Aboriginal people experiencing family violence and integrate with local services to improve the court’s responses to family violence.
Umalek Balit builds on a previous program, the Koori Family Violence Victim Support Program, that operated from Melbourne Magistrates’ Court from 2011-2016. Umalek Balit represents the reinstatement of this previous program and has been developed in conjunction with Aboriginal communities to support self-determination and redress the historical inequities experienced by Aboriginal people within the justice system.
The Royal Commission into Family Violence found that Victoria’s Aboriginal communities experience family violence at significantly higher levels than other Victorians, and that this continues to particularly impact on Aboriginal women and children. Aboriginal women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence and almost 11 times more likely to be killed because of violent assault.
As part of launching Umalek Balit Mildura and the Mildura Family Violence Intervention Order (FVIO) Breaches pilot on Tuesday 30 April, Chief Magistrate Peter Lauritsen said that this will deliver upon two key recommendations from the 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence.
“The Royal Commission identified that the reintroduction of a culturally appropriate service has the potential to make a significant contribution toward the long-term goal of improving Victorian Aboriginal communities’ confidence in the courts and justice system.”
Deputy Chief Magistrate Broughton, who is the Supervising Magistrate for Family Violence and Family Law, said the implementation of the program in Mildura was a significant step forward for Victorian courts in recognising and responding to the unique cultural and safety needs of Victorian Aboriginal communities.
“The establishment of Umalek Balit is an important milestone for the Magistrate Court’s work with the Aboriginal community to improve the safety of those living with family violence. The courts play a critical role in responding to family violence and this reinstated program provides appropriate support services tailored to the unique cultural needs of Aboriginal families. Our aim is to have a court system which empowers self-determination and builds on the strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, families and communities to live free from family violence.”