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Family Law Court amalgamation announced

1 June 2018

The Attorney General declared a shake-up of both the Family and Federal Circuit Courts on Wednesday 30 May, announcing the two would be amalgamated to form a single new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA).

The FCFCA will come into effect on January 1, 2019, creating a single entry-point for all federal family law matters with two divisions.

Division one will comprise the existing judges of the Family Court of Australia and deal only with family law matters, while division two will comprise the existing judges of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and deal with family law matters and general federal law matters.

A new Family Law Appeal Division in the Federal Court of Australia will also be established to hear all appeals in family law matters from the newly created FCFCA (and some appeals from the Family Court of Western Australia).

The Australian Government is anticipating the changes will increase the number of cases cleared by about 8,000 a year and produce significant cost savings.

The Law Council is awaiting the release of the draft legislation and further details around how the amalgamation will be carried out, however President Morry Bailes said constitutionally valid reforms, which are properly considered and based on evidence, and genuinely improve access to justice for Australian families by reducing waiting times and increasing efficiency of the family law system would be welcome.

“We have known for some time that the court system is in crisis, ultimately costing Australian families who have been denied access to justice,” Mr Bailes said.

“Waiting times of up to three years in the Family Court to finalise cases which involve disputes around children and property and allegations of family violence is unacceptable.

“The long wait serves only to add undue stress to what is already an incredibly painful and difficult time for the families involved.”

Australian families deserve reforms which will reduce the complexity, delay and cost of the family law system - faster access and better outcomes for the Australian families who rely on the court system to deliver fair and just outcomes in family law matters, must be at the forefront of any proposed reforms.

Mr Bailes also noted that the judges of the court carry a significant workload in a jurisdiction which has been significantly impacted by reduced judicial resources and the lack of legal aid.

“Urgent reform has been needed to begin to get the system back on its feet, however decades of chronic underfunding of the court system and legal aid has largely contributed to the lengthy delays and backlogs experienced today,” Mr Bailes said.

“The increasing number of self-represented litigants appearing before the courts also contributes to the time that courts take to deal with matters and leads to unjust outcomes.

“Further investment in the courts and legal aid is still required to deliver the best outcomes for children and Australian families.”

The Law Council will consult with the profession regarding the proposal and work with the Australian Government throughout the implementation of the reforms.

The Law Council will also continue to participate in the ongoing Australian Law Reform Commission’s Review of the Family Law System, with a submission recently lodged addressing the ALRC’s Review of the Family Law System - Issues Paper (IP 48).

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