Queensland Law Society

Communicate effectively and appropriately

Be non-judgmental in your response when interviewing the client and hearing their experience of domestic and family violence

Practice points:

Refer to the Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules 2012 (ASCR), specifically rules 4.1.2, 4.1.4, 7, 34.1 and 34.2. Listen and respond respectfully and sensitively when clarifying or asking for further details of abuse, domestic and family violence or cultural practices.

Support the client’s concerns about their or their children’s safety, as well as concerns they may have about the perpetrator, including about their wellbeing.

Do not ask the client questions in a way that suggests they are to blame. Use questions when seeking information from the client that do not imply some form of judgment about the client’s behaviour, for example, ask: “Has (use the partner’s name) ever interfered with your trying to leave?” as opposed to “Why didn’t you just leave?”.

Use open ended questions such as “Tell me about your relationship”, “What was your relationship like?”, “What happened if you did not agree about something?”

If the client is angry or depressed, be patient, listen and show compassion.

Allocate time to gather evidence from sources external to your client to corroborate your client’s evidence about domestic and family violence allegations.

Have more than one meeting with a client and ask the more personal questions in a subsequent interview.19

Recognise that a court does not require corroborative evidence to make a finding about domestic and family violence (Amador v. Amador (2009) FamCAFC 196).

Ask about behaviours rather than using terminology the client may not understand or relate to.

Use plain language and check the client understands the information you provide to them.

Consider any additional support your client may require and refer them to appropriate services.20 Be sensitive in your referral process, as some victims do not identify with having experienced domestic and family violence. If you are in doubt about the services available contact an agency like DV Connect or Lifeline.

When acting for perpetrators:

Listen and respond respectfully and sensitively.

Communicate to your client that domestic and family violence is criminal behaviour and capable of resulting in a criminal conviction.

Discuss the importance of acknowledgement of past behaviour and willingness to change.

Be aware of the effect of ASCR rules 19 and 20 and the ethical prohibition on a lawyer acting on instructions inconsistent with an admission by the client of past domestic and family violence.

Explain that evidence can be given to establish the context in which an act of domestic and/or family violence took place, but it does not excuse the behaviour.

Consider that perpetrators may not understand or accept their behaviour is violent and may need support to consider impact of behaviour. Provide an appropriate referral for your client to attend some form of counselling.21 

Acknowledge that clients may be reluctant to reveal domestic and family violence and may not understand that some acts comprise domestic and family violence

Practice points:

Communicate clearly to clients about what constitutes domestic and family violence. Reiterate to clients the confidentiality that exists between lawyers and client (refer to ASCR rule 9).

When acting for an elderly client, be aware that statistically the abuse is perpetrated equally by both sons and daughters and is overwhelmingly psychological and economic.

Barriers to elderly people and disabled people reporting domestic and family violence include:

  • Reliance on the perpetrator for care.
  • Fear of being relocated to a nursing home/facility.
  • Fear of retribution.
  • Shame and embarrassment (for elderly people).

Be aware that victims of domestic and family violence often present as incoherent and fearful, and provide incomplete accounts of abuse. Time is needed to be spent with them to obtain a full account. If the appropriate time is not available from the lawyer, consider referral to a support service22 to assist the client in relaying abuse.

Consider whether a female or male should interview the client.

Domestic and family violence may not be disclosed until a relationship of trust has been developed. Sexual violence may be particularly difficult for a victim to disclose, and some forms of domestic and family violence may not become clear until the client has an opportunity to reveal the pattern of abuse.

Acknowledge that it takes great courage to disclose domestic and family violence.

Consider referring to the risk factors when obtaining information from your client.

When acting for perpetrators:

Communicate clearly to clients what constitutes domestic and family violence.

Explain implications of denying domestic and family violence when it has occurred and explore alternatives such as acknowledgement coupled with an action plan to reform/rehabilitate/address behaviour.

Be aware of the effect of ASCR rules 19 and 20 and the ethical prohibition on a lawyer acting on instructions inconsistent with an admission by the client of past domestic and family violence.

Take note of cogent evidence from doctors or allied health professionals demonstrating that a client has mental health or substance dependency issues when referring clients to perpetrator programs and where possible, provide referrals to related support programs addressing all of these issues in a holistic fashion.23

Respect diversity

Practice points:

Familiarise yourself with cultural and religious issues.

Do not make assumptions about the client based on their background.

Recognise that people may respond to domestic and family violence in different ways. Acknowledge that current legal options may not be the only or best response.

Be aware of the impact of culture, religion, education, socio-economic background and refugee experiences. For example, people from some backgrounds may:

  • smile when recounting their experience of domestic and family violence. This may be appropriate behaviour in their cultural context and is used to “save face” and maintain self-esteem and dignity.
  • not report because of lack of trust of people in authority.
  • be unwilling to discuss events of domestic and family violence in front of community elders.
    • Females from some cultures may be unwilling to or provide full instructions to male lawyers about sexual violence and other sensitive matters.

Be aware of the impact that the Stolen Generations, intergenerational trauma, high rates of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people, dispossession of land and traditional culture, breakdown of community and kinship systems and entrenched poverty have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients and communities.

Be aware of the impact and importance of family and kinship connections and the pressures on victims not to disclose violence, including fear of retribution or children being removed.

ATSI victims may be reluctant to disclose violence unless a relationship of trust has been established. Consider consultation with and referral to culturally competent services and community supports.

ATSI victims may respond better to people of their own gender and ethnicity.

Obtain information about cultural norms within the client’s (be they victim or perpetrator) own community or current international information about the political situation, social situation and cultural norms in the client’s country of origin relevant to domestic and family violence.

Consider referring the client to established Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander welfare/support services or migrant/refugee services, women’s services, men’s services, disability services, health services, services to support the elderly or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) organisations for relevant information and support.24 Be aware that you should only contact these services with the express consent of your client.

If the client has a disability, check how that might impact on their giving instructions, understanding legal advice and coping with the court process.

Be satisfied that your client has legal capacity to provide instructions (refer to Capacity Handbook).25

Consider the impact on a victim’s mental health and decision-making ability when taking instructions and take steps to facilitate additional non-legal support if required.

When acting for perpetrators:

Explain that domestic and family violence exploits inequalities between the parties and cannot be excused because of cultural, religious, social or other factors, and remains unlawful even if considered “culturally appropriate” to the person using violence.

If necessary, refer to community support organisations to assist in this explanation.

If relevant, consider referring your client to local migrant communities which can often provide support to individuals who are struggling to adapt to a new way of life and accepted codes of conduct.

Ensure language requirements are met prior to interview

Consider the barriers that may limit the client’s understanding of complex legal language and meaning and adapt your practice accordingly. For example the client may require an interpreter, support worker or social worker.

Be aware:

  • NAATI Level 3 accredited interpreters should be arranged if you think that there may be language issues or the client has requested an interpreter.26
  • If there is not an accredited interpreter available consider whether there are other methods, such as using a friend or associate from the client’s community, or a telephone interpreter.
  • Always check that clients from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background or culturally and linguistically diverse background are comfortable to proceed without an interpreter, even if they have declined to use one on a previous occasion.
  • For eligible clients, Legal Aid Queensland will fund interpreters.
  • Use separate interpreters for both parties in a dispute and provide the other party’s name to the interpreter to check whether they have interpreted for the other party in the past.
  • Ask if the client would prefer a male or female interpreter.
  • Interpreters ideally should be independent to the parties – don’t use friends or neighbours except as a last resort and for indigenous clients who may prefer a family member.
  • Interpreters must not be part of the negotiations. Their role should be only to interpret for the client.
  • Sit opposite the client and speak to the client not the interpreter.
  • Allocate extra time when an interpreter or support worker is involved in a matter.

Consider any child’s needs and ability to communicate

Understand generally how children communicate and particularly how they communicate in situations of stress or fear. Often lack of protest or comment does not indicate consent but high levels of fear about stating their preferences.

Consider whether an interpreter is needed and refer to practice points in 2.4 above.

Consider the impact on a child who has been subject to domestic and family violence, and acknowledge that just because the child is no longer living with an alleged perpetrator does not mean that they will now feel sufficiently safe to discuss their preferences freely with others.

Raise any concerns about a child’s ability to communicate at family report or social assessment interviews with the assessor, so arrangements can be made to enhance a child’s ability to communicate. Recognise that a child may be intimidated by the alleged perpetrator’s presence in the waiting room, even if no interaction between the perpetrating parent and the child is planned in the assessment process.

Be aware of the tendency for both child and adult victims who have experienced living in situations of domestic and family violence to minimise the impact the violence has had and the continued risks they may still face.

Understand that a child is easily intimidated as a witness and they will often understand repeated questions, based on their experiences at school, as indicating that they have responded incorrectly to the question, and then become confused or seek to provide alternate answers which they hope will be treated as more correct.

Understand that children can be groomed by perpetrators and may not appear to be intimidated by a domestic and family violence perpetrator.


19. Research suggests that women may only disclose sexual abuse, for example, on a second or third meeting.
20. There is a list of resources maintained on the Queensland Courts website containing links to many government and community support services available throughout Queensland to help clients in a domestic violence relationship. See http://www.courts.qld.gov.au/courts/magistrates-court/domestic-and-family-violence/support-services
21. There is a list of resources maintained on the Queensland Courts website containing links to many government and community support services available throughout Queensland to help clients in a domestic violence relationship. See http://www.courts.qld.gov.au/courts/magistrates-court/domestic-and-family-violence/support-services
22. There is a list of resources maintained on the Queensland Courts website containing links to many government and community support services available throughout Queensland to help clients in a domestic violence relationship. See http://www.courts.qld.gov.au/courts/magistrates-court/domestic-and-family-violence/support-services
23. http://www.familyrelationships.gov.au/searchpages/GeneralService.aspx?ResourceId=3319
24. There is a list of resources maintained on the Queensland Courts website containing links to many government and community support services available throughout Queensland to help clients in a domestic violence relationship. See http://www.courts.qld.gov.au/courts/magistrates-court/domestic-and-family-violence/support-services
For specific resources for those of multicultural background refer to: https://www.communities.qld.gov.au/resources/multicultural/communities/qmrd-master-directory.pdf
For specific resources relating to sexual assault refer to National Sexual Assault Domestic Violence Counselling Service – 1800 RESPECT https://www.1800respect.org.au/service-support/queensland-domestic-family-violence-and-sexual-assault-services/
25. https://www.qls.com.au/Knowledge_centre/Ethics/Resources/Client_instructions_and_capacity/ Queensland_Handbook_for_Practitioners_on_Legal_Capacity