Chronic underfunding of the family law system by successive governments over many years, has left vulnerable families in crisis says the Law Council of Australia.
Appearing before the Joint Select Committee Inquiry into Australia’s Family Law System on Friday in Sydney, the Law Council will reiterate its call for holistic reform to the family law system and for solutions to be developed to benefit Australian families.
“There has been understandable frustration not only in the community but also by the profession, with the speed and cost of the justice the system delivers,” Law Council President Pauline Wright said.
“The most significant factor leading to increased costs is the delay in reaching a final hearing, if one is required. Underfunding legal assistance has also meant a significant number of parties appear unrepresented in court. This can lead to poor outcomes as well as costly delays.”
“There has also been a failure of governments to make timely appointments of judicial officers. This has created backlogs, produced delays and frustrated the proper management of the system,” Ms Wright said.
“The family law courts are doing what they can on overstretched resources. Changing the management and streaming of lists, early triage and other administrative adjustments will assist in improving the efficient and effective resolution of family law cases. However, these initiatives must be properly resourced,” she said.
Most separating families resolve their parenting and property issues without needing to go through the courts. It is only in the minority of cases and usually the most difficult and contentious matters, that court proceedings need to be pursued.
“That is why the Law Council is calling for an increase – not a decrease – in specialisation within family law and family violence issues,” Ms Wright said.
“We need a stand-alone Family Court, incorporating the existing judges of that court and the hard-working family law judges from the Federal Circuit Court. That will strengthen the family law system, ensure the necessary experience and specialisation, and create efficiencies.”
“It is a key role of the Federal Government to ensure that the Australian family law system is properly designed and resourced to deliver justice and to provide protection for some of the most vulnerable members of our society, including children and victims of family violence,” Ms Wright said.