Queensland Law Society

Prioritise Safety

Assess potential safety or security issues for your client

Practice points:

Endeavour to use routine and systematic questions to decide what safety precautions are necessary for you and the client, document safety risks on the file and consider the safety procedures of the relevant court (at an early stage).

  • Recognise your limitations in assessing risk (as a lawyer) and consider whether referral to another service is required.

A list of risk factors to these guidelines is available for review.

Review the risk assessment during the legal process such as interim hearing, pre-hearing, family dispute resolution conference and before day one of trial, and when you become aware of new information that may indicate a change in the level of a risk.

Consider attending risk assessment training so you can identify risks in domestic and family violence proceedings, or be aware of services that can undertake this assessment.

Recognise that court proceedings can be used by perpetrators to engage in domestic and family violence and safety risks can increase during court proceedings.

Use prompts to assist clients in being aware of risks to, and measures to protect, their safety, including:

  • Home security.
  • Having somewhere safe to go.
  • Storing a bag with basic items for themselves and children.
  • Safe transport.
  • Child pick-ups and drop-offs.

When acting for perpetrators:

Do not give legal advice that may compromise the safety of your client, the other party, any child or others.

Advise your client about the way their behaviour can be perceived in court proceedings and identify options to address this.

Be aware of perpetrators’ potential to manipulate and exert control and do not allow yourself to be drawn into or act in furtherance of such behaviour.

Take appropriate precautions for your client’s safety

Practice points:

If the client identifies feeling fearful of the other party, take steps to minimise the risk that they will see the other party and utilise safety rooms where they are available.

Always ensure there are no identifying documents or files left in view of or accessible to the other party at any time.

Take steps to ensure court documents do not inadvertently disclose addresses or phone numbers (including in documents annexed to affidavits).8 Also do not record this information on the front cover of the file taken to court.

Ensure that relevant staff in your office are aware of the safety concerns for the client.

Ensure that the method of communication you adopt with your client is safe:

  • Discuss the security of emails and the ability of the other party to access them from another computer, if they are aware of the password.
  • Discuss with the client the benefit of switching off their GPS/location data on their mobile phone.9
  • Make notes of which telephone numbers are safe to ring.
  • Remove any unsafe number to call, insecure email address, or other address from any computerised document management system to avoid any inadvertent disclosure by staff members.
  • In circumstances where it is not safe to call the client at home, make alternative arrangements for contacting the client (if possible) and record these on the file.

Do not give out the client’s address or that of their relatives or friends without the client’s permission.

Consider whether a client who is still living in the home needs to leave before the other party is served with the client’s court application and discuss your concerns with the client, providing them with appropriate referrals to relevant support organisations.

Consider the legal implications of moving out immediately or remaining in the property with safety as the overall consideration.

Do not give out refuge contact telephone numbers or street addresses.

Consider the logistics of getting the client to and from your office and legal events:

  • Consider the client using a separate exit and arriving/leaving at staggered intervals.
  • Accompany the client to a court or legal event or meet them at an independent place so they are not waiting with the other party.
  • Consider a plan for a safe return home.

Let a court know well in advance about safety arrangements that may need to be made at the court for the client. Do this in writing if necessary, and check with the court to ensure arrangements have been actioned.

Familiarise yourself and your clients with the court safety procedures10 and protocols including the Queensland Courts Domestic Violence Protocol,11 utilising safety rooms, for example.

Limit the line of sight between perpetrators and victims in any courtroom (eg place someone or yourself physically in the direct line of sight).

When acting for perpetrators:

Take steps to protect your safety.

Do not leave documents or files where they can be read or accessed by your client, especially if the documents contain personal information like phone numbers and addresses, which could be used to locate the other party.

Before considering whether to enter into negotiations about parenting plans or parenting arrangements at domestic violence order proceedings, consider the demeanour of the other party and advise your client about the potential of negotiations at such an event being portrayed as taking advantage of the other party in a vulnerable position, or intimidating or controlling the other party.

Explain the protection order’s conditions to your client and provide advice that helps prevent future acts of domestic and family violence. Advise the client that any further acts of domestic and family violence would breach the protection order or potentially increase the protection order’s conditions.

If the client makes threats to the safety of the other party or that party’s lawyer, consider contacting the lawyer to tell them about the threats. If you have any doubts about when to contact the lawyer for the other party and what to disclose, contact the Queensland Law Society’s Ethics Centre12 or Law Care service13 for expert advice. In emergency situations contact the police and/or the court.

If asked to pass gifts to children, consider the potential for a perpetrator to insert a tracking device in the gift and strongly consider whether it is appropriate to pass gifts or accept gifts on behalf of clients.

Take appropriate precautions for your own safety

Practice points:

If you are seeing the client away from the office, consider conducting a safety assessment of the location prior to the interview taking place.

If using an offsite location, take safety precautions by arranging to call your office when you arrive and when you are leaving so your colleagues know where you are and when to expect you back at the office.

If you are working in a government setting, know their safety procedures.

Familiarise yourself with the court safety procedures and protocols14 including the Queensland Courts Domestic Violence Protocol.15

In extreme cases, where you become concerned that your own safety may be at risk, protect your personal information (eg be conscious of social media posts, mobile phone usage, your listing on the electoral roll and transport arrangements). Familiarise yourself with using safety and security features when having contact with clients who may become emotional or angry (eg security buttons, locks on doors, positioning within room, notifying security staff).

Protect your own safety as you leave the building (eg carry a personal duress alarm or leave the building with colleagues).

Be aware of the impact of vicarious trauma and the support available through Law Care.16

Consider your workplace safety procedures and emergency procedures and be familiar with them.

When acting for perpetrators:

Familiarise yourself with using safety and security features when having contact with clients who may become emotional or angry (eg security buttons, locks on doors, positioning within room, notifying security staff).

If using an offsite location, call your office when you arrive and when you are leaving, so your colleagues know where you are and when to expect you back at the office.

Protect your own safety as you leave the building (eg carry a personal duress alarm or leave the building with colleagues).

If a client threatens you or a physical incident occurs, notify your supervisor and consider if the appropriate authorities need to be notified.

In extreme cases, where you become concerned that your safety is at risk, protect your personal information (eg be conscious of social media posts, mobile phone usage, your listing on the electoral roll and transport arrangements).

Be aware of some perpetrators’ ability to manipulate, which may extend to you as a legal practitioner.

Consider the safety of any children

Routinely make inquiries regarding the presence and safety of children when conducting cases where domestic and family violence has been alleged. Be aware that your client may be unaware of the level of risk to their children and may make statements like, “I don’t think he would ever hurt the children.”

The risk of harm to children must be considered taking into account all of the information provided to you, not just the information provided by your client.

Be aware that neglect, direct physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children often co-occurs in households where family and domestic violence occurs.

Understand that domestic violence is a form of child abuse.

Be aware that children can be at just as great a risk of harm post-separation as they were whilst living with a perpetrator of family violence, and their safety is directly linked to the safety of the non-offending parent.17

In providing advice to clients regarding the options for the parenting arrangements for children and the terms of any parenting orders, consider the risks to the child where either of the parents of the child has perpetrated family and domestic violence.

Restriction of information should be considered if there is a danger that parental knowledge of this information will place a child at risk of harm (eg knowledge that a child has reported abuse by a parent, or indicated a preference not to have contact with a parent). This needs to be considered in the context of your duty to your client.

If your client is required to participate in a social assessment or an assessment for a family report, inform your client about the process and advise the client to discuss their concerns about the children’s safety with the assessor.

Utilise the resource of any appointed independent children’s lawyer to ensure a child’s safety needs are considered in parenting arrangements.

Utilise the resource of any appointed separate representative to raise any issue about a child’s safety needs in any child protection proceedings.

Provide advice to your client in relation to reporting to the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, allegations of unacceptable risk of harm and in the event that the client has any questions about what the level of risk of harm to the child is, encourage the client to make inquiries with the Department.

Be aware of the ability to make an anonymous notification to the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services.18


8. http://www.courts.qld.gov.au/ data/assets/pdf_file/0004/162166/dva-f-domestic-and-family-violence-safety-form.pdf
http://www.courts.qld.gov.au/   data/assets/pdf_file/0020/162164/dva-f-aggreived-details-forms.pdf

9. http://www.dvrcv.org.au/knowledge-centre/technology-safety and http://www.smartsafe.org.au/

10. Family Law Court Family Violence Best Practice Principles http://www.familycourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fcoaweb/about/policies-and-procedures/family-violence-best-practice-principles-december-2015
11. Queensland Courts Domestic Violence Protocol
http://www.courts.qld.gov.au/ data/assets/pdf_file/0014/162230/domestic-violence-protocols-for-staff.pdf
12. Queensland Law Society Ethics Centre http://www.qls.com.au/knowledge_centre/ethics, Rule 9.2 ASCR http://www.qls.com.au/Knowledge_centre/Ethics/ASCR_2012 and Section 197A Child Protection Act 1999 (Qld) http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/qld/consol_act/cpa1999177/s197a.html
13. Law Care Service http://www.qls.com.au/For_the_profession/Love_law_Live_Life/LawCare

14. Family Law Court Family Violence Best Practice Principles http://www.familycourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fcoaweb/about/policies-and-procedures/family-violence-best-practice-principles-december-2015
15. Queensland Courts Domestic Violence Protocol http://www.courts.qld.gov.au/ data/assets/pdf_file/0014/162230/ domestic-violence-protocols-for-staff.pdf

16. Law Care Service http://www.qls.com.au/For_the_profession/Love_Law_Live_Life/LawCare
17. Women’s Legal Service Queensland, Safe After Separation: Abuse on Contact (2014) which is available from Women’s Legal Service, www.wlsq.org.au.

Shea Hart, A. (2011) Child safety in Australian Family Law: Responsibilities and challenges for social science experts in domestic violence cases. Australian Psychologist, 48 (2011), 31-40.
Bromfield, L. (2010) Domestic violence and assessing risk to children. National Child Protection Clearinghouse, Australian Institute of Family Studies. Jaffe, R.G.; Lemon, H.K. & Poisson, S.E. (2003) Child Custody and Domestic Violence: A call for safety and accountability. Thousand Oaks,

Ca., Sage Publications.
18. Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services https://www.communities.qld.gov.au/childsafety/protecting-children/reporting-child-abuse