On front line of family law reform

A parliamentary inquiry has endorsed a law professor’s proposal for a multidisciplinary tribunal to manage parenting disputes for those unable to afford legal representation.

University of Queensland’s Professor Patrick Parkinson AM said if the Australian Government implemented the proposed tribunal, it would ease financial and emotional stress for families in the system.

“Our proposal provides access to justice and both quick and expert resolution of disputes for those who cannot get legal aid or afford lawyers,” Professor Parkinson said.

“The proposal is that each case will be heard by a panel of three.

“It will have an experienced family lawyer as chairperson, and appropriate experts including mental health professionals, drug and alcohol specialists, and those with extensive experience on issues of domestic violence and child abuse.

“The tribunal, assisted by an independent children’s lawyer, will adopt an inquisitorial approach.”

The tribunal is one of 29 key recommendations outlined in the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System report, which the government is expected to consider later this year.

Professor Parkinson collaborated on the concept with Brian Knox SC – formerly Principal Registrar of the Family Court and a District Court judge – and a detailed proposed was submitted to government in 2017.

Professor Parkinson said that $12.7 million was allocated to the project in the 2017 Budget, but the legislation required did not pass Parliament.

“What is significant this time is that Labor appears to have come around to the idea of implementing the pilot,” he said.

“The Joint Select Committee seems to have been unanimous on this recommendation.”

Professor Parkinson said the next step was for the Australian Government to decide which of the Joint Select Committee’s recommendations to accept.

“My proposal, with Brian Knox, is an ‘out of the box’, game-changing idea which would help to reform Australia’s family law system for the better.”

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