More Judges Needed not a New System
The Family Law Practitioners Association of Queensland (FLPA) is calling on the Federal Government to immediately appoint more judges with family law expertise to address the Family Law Courts crisis, not replace the existing system that is recognised as one of the fairest in the world.
In a recent letter to the Attorney General Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, FLPA outlined alarming statistics demonstrating the strain on current judges in both the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia which is significantly affecting many children and parents.
Particularly concerned with the resources allocated in the Brisbane and regional Queensland registries, FLPA gave several recommendations for the Government to address what is needed to ensure the existing system works more effectively.
The FLPA says the recommendations are based on member feedback who are witnessing first-hand the impact delayed judgements are having on Queensland families.
“In short, the Family Courts are at saturation point. But the system isn’t broken, it just needs more resources,” says the FLPA.
“Judges do their best to manage, but it is a losing battle without more resources.
“Resolving a case quickly is in the best interest of children and families and will best protect them from risk, particularly when family violence is involved.”
Appointing more judges will mean that cases can be dealt with quickly, and the court is able to intervene in cases at an early stage to neutralise any risk factors present and protect children.
In the Federal Circuit Court, FLPA recommends appointing at least two additional Federal Circuit Court judges sitting in Brisbane with specialist family law backgrounds.
“The new judicial appointments made must be able to provide immediate relief to the problem,” says the FLPA.
The FLPA welcomes constructive review of the existing system but a new system will not solve the problem.
“Implementing a completely new system risks making the existing problem worse, as existing resources will be stretched further.
“Any system, new or old, will fail without adequate resourcing.
The FLPA is concerned with the replacement concepts.
“Concepts such as determining disputes by lay people risks introducing unpredictable justice and turning on subjective values of decision-makers will only lead to further discontent among the community.
“The Family Courts have more than 40 years of successfully determining disputes in this complicated area which will continue to work if the existing court is properly funded,” says the FLPA.
About the Family Law Court:
In 2011, there were five ‘trial’ Judges sitting in Brisbane – today there are three.
According to registry statistics, there are 368 pending matters in the Registry which means judges have more than 120 pending cases in their lists.
In Brisbane, 57 per cent of matters are taking longer than 12 months to finalise, with the median time for a matter to reach trial being 21.5 months.
Each judge disposes of, on average, 40 matters per annum, 15 of which are reserved decisions with written judgements.
New matters are being filed each day, compounding the problem.
Cases involving the most complex issues – allegations of abuse, histories of family violence, and the special medical needs of children – are being kept in lengthy ‘holding patterns’, exposing those litigants, and their children, to the very consequences the litigation in which they are a participant is designed to prevent.
About the Federal Circuit Court of Australia:
There are 17,000 filings per year in Australia, apportioned across 65 Judges.
The median time for a matter to reach a trial is, nationally, 14 months. In Brisbane, that is longer.
In the list of some Federal Circuit Court Judges, interim hearings are not able to be allocated.
The daily lists of some Federal Circuit Court judges are so long (at times more than 40 matters are listed) that matters are unable to be heard, and parties are left with no resolution.
A Court unable to determine cases on a final basis is being used as a tool to disadvantage spouses.
The Family Law Practitioners Association of Queensland is the leading professional association for the family law sector in Queensland. For more information, go to www.flpa.org.au.