Family violence through the lens of therapeutic jurisprudence: court-craft in delivering and communicating written sentencing decisions

Ms Nina (Christina) Hudson1

1University Of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia

Prior to starting her PhD, Nina has spent the last 10 years working in a range of senior roles in independent advisory bodies in the South Australian and Victorian public service, providing advice on legal policy and law reform, conducting research and evaluation and undertaking consultation. Nina has a Masters in Criminology from the University of Cambridge, and double degree in Arts and Law degree with first class honours in law from the University of Adelaide.

Over the past 40 years, family violence has shifted in legal and community consciousness from a ‘private matter’ to a prevalent, serious and harmful phenomenon. In the last decade, in particular, family violence has taken centre stage on Australian political and community agendas. Despite successive reforms, Australian women and children still are at greatest risk of physical and sexual violence in the home at the hands of males they know.  In 2018 alone, as at 11 July 2018, 34 women have died as a result of violence: the majority killed or alleged to have been killed in circumstances of family violence (Counting Dead Women Australia and Destroy the Joint 2018). Improving criminal justice responses to family violence through prosecuting and sentencing ‘family violence offences’ is but one of many policy priorities in response to such statistics.

The potential for harnessing therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) in the sentencing process for family violence offenders is a budding field of research. In Australia, the traditional ‘justice’ model is the dominant approach for prosecuting and sentencing family violence offences. A large body of literature identifying problems with this model has focused on the ‘front end’ of the system (e.g., policing), with less focus on the ‘back end’. Sentencing is a key component of this, and is both a public and a private communication of the highest importance. This paper is based on Hudson’s PhD research linking two interrelated knowledge gaps: the unharnessed potential of TJ is used as a lens to conduct rich and qualitative research to grow the limited understanding of family violence sentencing jurisprudence. The paper will present the research approach and a selection of findings from Hudson’s first stage of empirical research, which comprises content analysis of Tasmanian and Victorian higher court sentencing decisions for family violence offences.


Nina is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeremy Prichard, Dr Helen Cockburn and Professor Lorana Bartels. Her PhD research is examining sentencing for family violence offences through the lens of therapeutic jurisprudence, with a particular focus on judicial ‘court-craft’ in delivering and communicating sentences in higher and summary courts in Tasmania and Victoria.

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