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Planned court system shake-up criticised

By November 5, 2015No Comments

We’re all well aware of the deficiencies in the family court system—the massive backlogs of cases, tales of retiring judges not being replaced for long periods, the chronic lack of staff and funding. Now, according to The Australian newspaper, the Turnbull government is set to make structural changes to the court system, with a takeover by the Federal Court of the Family and Federal Circuit Courts.  The cost saving measure has already been signed off by cabinet, with a new bill apparently to be introduced into parliament next month.  It’s thought the new structure will save the government around $6m over four years. The planned change has, however, come in for heavy criticism.

The move has caused outcry amongst family law practitioners who doubt the reforms will result in significant change for the better, and fear a loss of court independence—though this has been denied by Brandis who claims that savings will be kept by the courts themselves and that their independence will remain. The Law Council of Australia, too, has voiced its dismay.

Critics says the changes won’t solve the problems caused by the courts’ collective deficits—according to the KPMG report handed to Senator Brandis 18 months ago, this stands at $75 million by 2017-18. Nor will it deal with the staffing issues plaguing the court system. Just this week, Chief Judge John Pascoe revealed in the Federal Circuit Court’s annual report that the nine judges who retired in the past year still have not all been replaced.

The Australian also reports that the Family and Federal Circuit Courts both recorded losses last financial year, while the Federal Court had a surplus. At the same time though, the Family and Federal Circuit Courts had significant increases in workload, while the Federal Court had a significant decrease.

The reforms may yet fail in the Senate, due to opposition from the Greens who warn of ‘the ­potential loss of family law ­expertise’:

“Family Court staff across all areas have experience dealing with families in crisis, which is not something easily measured on a balance sheet.”

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