Courts to receive $100 million in Government funding announced in 2021-22 Budget

The Family Court of Australia (FCoA) and Federal Circuit Court of Australia (FCC) welcome significant funding announced last night as part of the 2021-22 Budget, together with other recent funding, which allows for the appointment of 2 additional FCoA judges, and 8 additional FCC judges. It also provides for important judicial support and reform measures.

The $100 million of additional resources (over the four years to 2024-25) will help to introduce much-needed support to judges and reforms that will lead to a reduction in delays and improve safety outcomes for litigants involved in family law and other disputes.

The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Hon Will Alstergren said that the Courts have been working incredibly hard to introduce reforms that will lead to significant benefits to litigants, particularly in the area of family law.

“This is very good news for the Australian public. For too long, we have endured a less than ideal system, and with the injection of such substantial resources, I am confident that the Courts can start to address the unacceptable delays litigants have faced for many years.

“The judges of our Courts are some of the hardest working judges in Australia, demonstrated over the past 12 months by their ability to continue to hear cases successfully throughout the pandemic. This funding will provide them with critical and much-needed support to continue to deal with their unrelenting workloads.

“Securing these fundamental resources has been the Courts’ utmost priority. The additional funding appropriately recognises the work that our Courts do, our reform agenda, and the critical need for further judicial, registrar, family consultant and support staff resources for the Courts,” Chief Justice Alstergren added.

The additional funding will see the number of funded judges in the FCC increase from 68 to 76 (across family law and general federal law), and the number of funded judges in the FCoA increase from 33 to 35 (excludes FCoWA dual-commission judges). Overall funded judicial numbers across both Courts will jump to 111 judges nationally-a 10% increase.

On 1 September 2021, the new amalgamated Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia will officially commence. This round of funding will allow the Courts to streamline the system and deliver tangible improvements

Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar of the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Mr David Pringle, said that the funding received in this Budget is the largest single resourcing injection the Courts have received.

“This funding recognises the many positive initiatives that the Court is undertaking including enhanced triaging of matters to be better informed about risk, and introducing best practice case management reforms that assist parties to narrow and resolve their issues earlier to save time, stress and costs. Another important initiative is the introduction of dispute resolution conferences in parenting matters which can be jointly mediated by a registrar and child-expert family consultant,” Mr Pringle added.

Together, the newly announced and recent funding allows for:

  • Additional judicial resources and support for family law: A comprehensive funding package of structural funding for family law officers in the FCoA and FCC, including registrars, family consultants, Indigenous Liaison Officers and support staff for judges, registrars and family consultants. This equates to $60.8m in funding over the forward estimates (four years from the 2021-22 financial year), including $1.42m in capital. It provides funding, from 1 July 2021, equivalent to 80 family law positions, comprising 27.4 registrar-related positions (at varying levels), 25 registrar-related support positions, 10 family consultants plus support staff, 4 Indigenous Liaison Officers, and 10 previously unfunded associate positions for FCoA first instance judges. This very significant funding is considered by the Courts to be an important part of our structural resource base, and will provide critical resources to:
    • underpin fundamental structural family law reform,
    • ensure the capacity of the Courts to implement the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Act 2021 (Court reform legislation), including the single point of entry for family law filings,
    • alleviate substantial workload pressures on judges, and
    • enhance the ability of the Courts to respond to family violence and other risks to women, children and other vulnerable people.
  • Additional judges in South Australia: Funding from 1 July 2021 for 1 FCoA judge and 2 FCC (family law) judges and support staff, and 1 family law registrar as part of the implementation of the Court reform legislation to support the Adelaide registry. This equates to $12.6m in funding over the forward estimates, and is an ongoing funding measure.
  • Additional judges for migration litigation work: Funding from 1 January 2022 for 2 FCC (General Federal Law) judges and support staff to assist with the migration caseload and backlog. This provides the FCC $7.2m in funding over the forward estimates, and is an ongoing funding measure.
  • Information sharing between Commonwealth and States/Territories: The additional funding contributes towards the implementation of the National Strategic Framework for Information Sharing between the Family Law and Family Violence and Child Protection Systems which aims to enhance the way information (such as family-violence related information) is shared between the Commonwealth and State/Territory systems. The funding includes $15.8m from 1 January 2022 over the forward estimates, including $0.5m in capital funding in 2021-22 and is an ongoing funding measure. It will provide for the equivalent of up to 29 family law information sharing-related positions, comprising 9 registrar-related positions (at various levels), 4 registrar-related support staff, and 16 registry staff.
  • Small claims (PPP500) funding: $3.5m in funding from 1 January 2022 for the extension of the PPP500 small claims property pilot to continue for a further 18 months to 30 June 2023, providing for the extended engagement of 6 registrar positions and 6 registrar support staff in the existing pilot sites (Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Parramatta registries). The aim of the PPP500 is to improve the responsiveness of the family courts for vulnerable parties by providing a simplified way to resolve property disputes which will minimise risk and legal costs, and best preserve the parties’ assets.

The Courts will continue to discuss with Government further appointments, as well as funding to support key projects such as the Lighthouse Project and PPP500, and broader initiatives to tackle family violence and the protection of vulnerable parties and children involved in the family law system.

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