Dealing with domestic and family violence is never easy and rarely straightforward. In addition to the emotional toll on all involved, navigating domestic and family violence legislation, criminal law and the legal process itself can be complex. Kath Manby is an expert in the area, having worked as a Senior Lawyer in the Violence Prevention and Women’s Advocacy Team at Legal Aid Queensland. It’s a role that inspired her to open her own practice, VM Family Law, of which she is the Principal Family Lawyer. Kath will be leading two College of Law workshops to help family lawyers, criminal lawyers, social workers and community legal centres better assist clients experiencing domestic and family violence.
“I have always had a passion for working with women and children who have been subjected or exposed to incidents of domestic and family violence,” said Kath. Having personally experienced domestic violence, she has first-hand knowledge of the types of behaviours that her clients experience.
Her first major role in domestic violence was with Legal Aid Queensland. In this role, she exclusively assisted clients who had been subjected to domestic violence.
“This included applications to the Magistrates Court for Protection Orders and associated matters in the Federal Circuit and Family Courts,” said Kath.
“In this role, I also assisted with the drafting of the Best Practice Guidelines for Working with Respondents and the rollout of the Duty Lawyer service in the Magistrates Courts for Protection Order matters. This involved me attending local courts and training the lawyers who had been appointed as duty lawyers.”
An emotionally challenging and complex area of law
It’s a field that is often more complex than it seems.
“In my experience, the most basic error lawyers make is thinking this area of law is easy. This is absolutely incorrect,” said Kath.
“Not only are we dealing with legislation that is in some ways subjective in application, but we are dealing with aggrieved parties who are usually scared and highly emotional. This is something that lawyers are ordinarily not trained to deal with. It is therefore important that lawyers understand their role, but also able to empathise with their client’s needs and identify and refer any safety issues to relevant organisations that are able to assist the client.”
The perpetrators of violence are also of concern.
“We are dealing with respondents who may be volatile, angry and potentially cause a risk to our offices and lawyers. This is something that people have to take into consideration when dealing with this area of law and ensure that there are appropriate measures in place to deal with this.”
Another common oversight is not having full knowledge of the legislation. In her experience of the system and training lawyers, it was apparent that some did not fully understand intricate aspects of the legislation.
“This can potentially have a huge impact on how a matter is resolved,” Kath said.
Her efforts as a lawyer has seen her named a Sole Practitioner finalist in the 2018 Lawyers Weekly awards. She has also been nominated in five categories for the City of Ipswich Business Awards 2017, including New Business of the Year, Customer Service, and Business Person of the Year.
A national problem with minimal training
Attendees will have a choice of two workshops: an introductory and advanced workshop.
“The introductory course will provide attendees with a thorough understanding of the legislation, relevant case law and the practices and procedures of the Magistrates Court,” said Kath. This will allow each attendee to feel confident when representing clients.
“To date, there is very little training for lawyers and other professions in the area of domestic violence,” observed Kath. “Yet Australia as a nation is suffering from significant numbers of domestic violence applications. With proper training, I hope that not only can attendees assist clients to ensure their safety, but also build their practice to include education on preventing domestic violence.
“The advanced course is designed to provide the in-depth knowledge of running a trial and how Protection Order matters can overlap with other important pieces of legislation.”
Completely interactive coursework
Both courses are completely interactive. Discussion will drive each course, focusing on the key topics of family and domestic violence covered. “This includes asking the attendees to draw on personal and work experiences to facilitate the learning objectives,” Kath said.
“Throughout the course, there will be a practical activity after each session based on individual or group work. This is designed to assist the attendees in implementing the skills being taught. These practical activities include preparing case notes, applications, affidavits and running a mock hearing.”
A fulfilling career
It’s clear this is a career Kath finds fulfilling and purposeful.
“I am proud of every client that I have been able to assist in terms of managing their safety or obtaining an Order to protect them in the future. It always makes me proud to know that one more woman or child is safe because of the assistance I have given them,” Kath said.
Conversely, she is also proud of the respondents – the perpetrators of family and domestic violence – who have taken steps to address their behaviour and hold themselves accountable for their actions.
“I am very proud of the relationships that I have been able to build with various domestic violence organisations, such that they feel confident in referring clients to me.
“It is important to me that as a legal community we continue to work towards achieving a future that is free of domestic and family violence. I am proud to be a part of this movement. I’m also grateful for the opportunity to assist in educating lawyers, social workers and CLCs through this course and through community education events I have run.
“Creating a future where our children can experience a society where domestic violence is a rare exception is very important to me,” said Kath. “I hope to have every attendee leave with the passion I have to continue this important work.”
Introduction to Family and Domestic Violence Workshop – 22-23 February 2019, Brisbane
Advanced Family and Domestic Violence Workshop – 29 March 2019, Brisbane
Child Abuse and Domestic Violence: Working with Clients – 6 March 2019, Sydney
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