Court safety fears grow

Cr Kim McAliney outside Werribee Magistrates Court. Photo by Damjan Janevski.

By Alesha Capone

Long serving Wyndham councillor Kim McAliney has expressed fears for the safety of family violence survivors who attend Werribee Magistrates Court.

Cr McAliney, who holds the council’s safer communities portfolio, said there was only one entry to the court, which posed a “security risk” for people who had experienced family violence and did not wish to encounter the perpetrator before going into a courtroom.

Cr McAliney said there was no remote witness facility available to the court, no safe room, no duress button in the lawyer’s office and limited privacy in the court’s foyer areas.

She said lawyers were also often forced to meet with their clients under the court’s stairwell, due to a lack of interview rooms.

A carpet-covered pinboard was often used as a security screen in the courtroom, as a shield between family violence victims and offenders,

Cr McAliney said. She said with only two courtrooms – including one for VCAT – the Werribee court was often “overcrowded”.

“The building cannot accommodate the sheer number of people requiring legal intervention, without compromising safety,” Cr McAliney said.

A state government spokesperson said: “We’re working closely with Wyndham City Council, Corrections Victoria and Victoria Police to develop a modern, fit-for-purpose court facility in Werribee.”

A Court Services Victoria (CSV) spokesperson said the 2016 Court Services Victoria Strategic Asset Plan identified Wyndham as “a high priority region requiring a new purpose-built court”.

CSV received funding in the 2017-18 state budget for planning for a new Wyndham law court, and funding in the 2018-19 budget for acquisition of land.

The CSV spokesperson said the existing Werribee court was recently upgraded, with safety and security works including the replacement of the registry counter “to create separation of parties and a sense of privacy at the counter and to improve service delivery”.

The spokesperson said two new offices were also constructed on the upper floor, for support workers “which included changes to respondent and applicant facilities to improve the separation of parties and enhance safety for court users”.