‘The only thing that will fix Family Court’
PLANNED changes to the Family Court would hurt families and children, lawyers and women's groups warned yesterday.
The Law Council of Australia, Women's Legal Services Australia and Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia demanded the Government scrap its merger of the Family Court with the Federal Circuit Court.
Law Council president Arthur Moses slammed the "band-aid fix'', insisting the courts needed more judges to clear a backlog of 20,000 cases.
He said divorcing couples were waiting up to three years for a decision on property or custody, as judges juggled up to 600 cases each.
"Simply rebadging a court is not going to solve the massive problems confronting families who access the under-resourced family law jurisdiction with little or no access to legal aid and often appear unrepresented, and have to endure years of delays before cases are finalised,'' Mr Moses told The Courier-Mail.
"Serious problems require serious solutions for families, not gimmicks''
Attorney-General Christian Porter said he would only spend more money on the family law system if the Senate passed his plan to merge the two courts this year.
One Nation senator Pauline Hanson, who controls two crucial votes on the Senate crossbench, is demanding a year-long parliamentary inquiry to consider the Australian Law Reform Commission recommendation that family law be handed to the states and territories.
Mr Porter said yesterday increasing funding without reform did not achieve anything.
"There is no point in pushing more money into a system which everyone agrees is broken, by virtue of the fact that there are two courts doing the same work with a complicated and costly system of two sets of rules, processes and procedures,'' he told The Courier-Mail.
"It is essential that any additional funding is subject to the restructure of the courts system to ensure the courts are focused on helping families finalise matters at the end of a relationship as quickly, cheaply and inexpensively as possible.
"When the Bill is passed, the extra funding will flow.''
Mr Moses said successive federal governments had starved the family courts of funding.
"Australian families have suffered enough,'' he said.
"They should not be held hostage so that a flawed Bill is passed that will worsen the situation.''
Women's Legal Services spokeswoman Angela Lynch said family law reform should not be solely driven by economics.
"The merger will only hurt families and children already at their most vulnerable, not solve the problems plaguing the family law system,'' she said.
Rape and Domestic Violence Services executive officer Karen Willis said the Government must stop children and victims of family violence falling through the cracks of federal courts, which decide on children's custody, and state courts, which rule on domestic violence and child abuse.
ALRC president Sarah Derrington, who chaired an 18-month inquiry into family law for the Federal Government, has called for the Family Court to be abolished so that local magistrates or state-based judges can rule on child protection as well as divorce, custody and property matters.