Magistrates in the Family Violence Court Division at Heidelberg and Ballarat Magistrates’ Courts, and at the counselling courts at Frankston Magistrates’ Court and the Moorabbin Justice Centre, can make a ‘counseling order’. This requires the Respondent to attend a Men’s Behaviour Change Program.
Men’s Behaviour Change Programs (MBCPs)
MBCPs are offered statewide. They work with men to assist them to be accountable for their use of violence, change violent attitudes and behaviours, and promote women and children’s safety. They give men an opportunity to better understand why they acted abusively, and to learn or strengthen non-violent ways of relating to current or former partners and children.
There are more than 35 MBCPs located throughout Victoria. The MBCP's can receive referrals for men mandated to attend through a Counselling Order from the Courts at Ballarat, Heidelberg, Frankston and Moorabbin. This process is explained in more detail below.
Outside of the use of Counselling Orders, Magistrates from any Magistrates’ Court can mandate men’s attendance at a MBCP. The Magistrate does this by making it a condition on an Intervention Order that a Respondent contact the Men’s Referral Service (1300 766 491) for a referral to a MBCP. Or they might otherwise suggest to a Respondent that it would be for his and his family’s benefit if he attended a MBCP.
Eligibility for a Counselling Order
To be eligible for a Counselling Order, the Respondent must be:
- the husband or former husband, male partner or former partner, boyfriend or former boyfriend of a woman protected by an Intervention Order; and
- living in a particular postcode area when the violence occurred.
Before a Counselling Order is made for a Respondent, the Respondent Support Worker conducts an eligibility assessment. RSWs ask Respondents a number of questions about them and their behaviour to see if they are suitable for the program. The Court receives a written report, and the Respondent is assessed as eligible unless they do not have the ability or the capacity to participate in counselling because of:
- personal history or limited language skills;
- a severe psychiatric or psychological condition;
- alcohol or other drug problems; or
- any other matter the Respondent Support Worker considers relevant.
If assessed as eligible, the Magistrate will order the Respondent to attend a MBCP, and will explain:
- the purpose, terms and effect of the order;
- the consequences if he/she doesn’t comply with the proposed order; and
- the way the order can be varied (changed) or revoked (cancelled).
If a Respondent does not understand the order or wants to ask questions, they can ask their lawyer, the Registrar or the Respondent Support Worker.
Counselling Order Conditions
If a Respondent misses their Counselling Order eligibility assessment interview, they must immediately contact the Respondent Support Worker to explain why they did not attend, and arrange another time.
If a Respondent misses a MBCP session, they should immediately ring the agency providing the MBCP to explain why they did not attend.
If the Respondent disobeys a Counselling Order without a reasonable excuse they can be charged with a criminal offence. If found guilty, the Respondent may be convicted and fined, and this will result in a criminal record. Respondents should obtain legal advice if charged with disobeying a Counselling Order.
Changing a Counselling Order
A Respondent can apply for a Counselling Order to be varied (changed) or revoked (cancelled) (ask the Registrar for details). The Court may vary or revoke an order if:
- there is no approved MBCP that can be reasonably and practically attended;
- it deems the order is no longer appropriate; or
- there has been a change in circumstances that significantly impacts on a Respondent’s ability or capacity to participate in MBCP.