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Canberra Family Law – Improved access to justice for indigenous families

By July 2, 2014No Comments

New measures are in place to ‘encourage more indigenous families to seek justice through the courts and prevent disputes from escalating’. Read the full story from The Australian here:

Family Law remote approach to counter courtroom fears

THE Federal Circuit Court will begin holding Family Law hearings in indigenous health centres and make it easier for grandparents to take emergency court action involving children, in a bid to make the court more accessible to indigenous families.

The steps are aimed at encouraging indigenous families to res­olve disputes earlier and to ensure appropriate arrangements are put in place to care for children. Chief Judge John Pascoe said the ultimate goal was to help reduce the rate at which indigenous children were being removed from families.

“The aim is to keep indigenous families together and to ensure that indigenous children have the opportunity to be part of their culture,” he said.

Indigenous children were 10 times as likely to be placed in care in 2012 and that rate has been increasing since 2000, ­according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Chief Judge Pascoe said many Aboriginal people shied away from the courts because the environments were intimidating. The court will start to hold hearings in settings such as Aboriginal health centres, to encourage more indigenous families to seek justice through the courts and prevent disputes from escalating.

The first of those hearings is likely to take place in La Perouse, in Sydney’s southeast, home to a large Aboriginal community. “For me, access to justice is about people being able to come to the court,” Chief Judge Pascoe said.

“How do we make it less threatening, how do we make it easier for people?”

He said the Federal Circuit Court, which handles about 85 per cent of Family Law matters, would set up new procedures to enable grandparents to file court actions more easily. “Normally, when grandparents want to come to the court it will be in a situation of emergency and so we need to be able to create a pathway so a judge gets to deal with that case very quickly,” Chief Judge Pascoe said.

The court was also looking at how it can involve ­extended family members in proceedings involving children. He said in many indigenous families, aunties, uncles and grandparents played an important role.

The measures are part of the court’s new Reconciliation Action Plan, formed in consultation with Aboriginal community groups and legal services.

Other initiatives will include simplifying court documentation, cultural training for judges, traineeships for indigenous people and community education.

Chief Judge Pascoe said the Reconciliation Action Plan was triggered by a meeting he had with female elders in Dubbo who told him they had lost their children to drugs and alcohol and did not want to lose their grandchildren, too. “We were really interested in what we could do to try and help with this situation,” he said.



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