26 Aug Family court abolition a loss for vulnerable women and children
On 18 February 2021, whilst the Australian public grappled with a pandemic and changes to their Facebook page in the midst of the ‘Media Bargaining’ debate; the Senate was voting to demolish the Family Court of Australia. If the story didn’t reach you, we are not surprised! What took the Whitlam Government years to establish in the 1970s, was quietly abolished in just two days under the Morrison Government in a 30/28 vote. Despite having not made (many) headlines, the abolition of the Family Court (by merging it with the Federal Circuit Court) was strongly opposed by Labor and the Greens, as well as 155 stakeholders including the Law Council of Australia.
But what’s the big fuss?
Well, the Family Court of Australia was a specialist Court whose core function was to determine cases with complex facts and parties, particularly those with serious allegations of family violence and risk of harm to children. For example, it was the Family Court, not the Federal Circuit Court, that heard cases on the Magellan List, a pathway by which cases involving serious allegations of physical and sexual child abuse could be heard urgently.
As the open letter to the Attorney-General opposing the bill and signed by the above-mentioned stakeholders stated: “Any reform should strengthen a system, not lead to the diminution of specialisation.”
The decision has been widely criticised by former Family Court judges and community legal services alike for it will most likely lead to increasing costs, delay and stress to vulnerable families battling it out an already overworked and under-resourced system.
But come 1 September 2021, what are the practical implications of the Family Court “merger?”.
In a media statement released on 6 August 2021, from what will be known as the ‘Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia’, the Court promises to:
- Improve early risk identification and safety of children and vulnerable parties.
- Encourage smarter ways to separate with less acrimony, less cost and more dispute resolution.
- Expect compliance with Court Orders.
- Enhancing national access to justice for vulnerable parties and regional communities through the use of technology.
- Resolve up to 90 per cent of cases within 12 months, where possible.
Fundamental changes to the way the Court/s will run will be:
- Harmonised rules (as opposed to two separate sets of rules for the FCA and FCC).
- No separate division to hear appeals.
- A National Contravention List to address the expectation that all parties will comply with Orders of the Court.
- Changes to the title of ‘Registrar’.
- The introduction of a “more fulsome” report in parenting cases called a ‘Child Impact Report’.
- A comprehensive review of the current Court forms.
- A new website “designed to provide users with simplified access to, and navigation of, Court information”.
You can read about these changes here.
By Nemesia Hood
If you are struggling to see how these changes will make any real difference to the running of an already overtaxed system; you are not alone!