The peak body for Australian legal professions has lambasted a proposed shake-up of the country’s family courts, warning the restructure could make a system that is already in crisis even worse.
The federal government intends to merge the Family and Federal Circuit Courts early next year.
Its plans are aimed at speeding up complex trials, cutting the backlog of unresolved cases, and reducing prolonged and acrimonious family disputes.
Arthur Moses, president-elect of the Law Council of Australia, accepts the family court system is broken and in desperate need of reform.
However, he is warning federal policymakers against endorsing the merger.
“This particular reform is not the answer. The proposed restructure may actually create more delays and problems than it solves,” Mr Moses will tell a Senate committee on Wednesday.
Under the coalition government’s plans, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia would be split into two divisions under the leadership of one chief justice.
With 90 per cent of the Federal Circuit Court’s caseload consisting of family law matters, the court would provide a single entry point.
Mr Moses said the proposed changes had the potential to reduce the number of specialist family law judges.
“A lack of expertise in family law by judges can lead to erroneous decisions, poorer outcomes for families, and the risk of more appeals and increased costs for litigants,” he will tell senators.
“Using specialist judges is more efficient and produces fairer outcomes.”
Mr Moses said there had been chronic underfunding of the family law system over several decades and a failure to make timely appointments of judicial officers.
He said addressing both of these issues was critical to solving the problems the courts now faced.
The Law Council warns the reforms would increase the workload of the Family Circuit Court, which is already struggling with a backlog of cases.
Mr Moses believes the proposed merger is based on a rushed and flawed external report…
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