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Australia’s family courts ‘comprehensively underfunded’

The Law Council of Australia has told a national inquiry that the family courts cannot deal properly with family violence and its effects because they are “comprehensively underfunded”.

Law Council President Pauline Wright told the inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence that, while the Family Law Act acknowledged the profound effect of family violence on children and families, the family courts were not adequately resourced to deal properly with violence and its effects.

“From the absence of a court environment in which litigants are, and feel, consistently safe, through to the inadequacy of resources to investigate allegations and risk and the inaccessibility of victim support services, the system is comprehensively underfunded,” Ms Wright said.

“The Law Council strongly supports the use of family dispute resolution services through non-court-based interventions to resolve issues arising from the breakdown of family relationships.

“However, the family courts provide a vital resource for those unable to resolve issues using these services. These vulnerable parties need a court system which is flexible, accessible and adequately resourced.”

She said the Law Council’s submission to the inquiry primarily focused on the family law system. However, there was significant empirical evidence which suggested a correlation between families with complex needs and those who required the courts as a form of dispute resolution.

Such families tended to face a combination of factors that adversely impacted on the health, safety and wellbeing of children and caregivers alike.

“Addressing these factors may be the key to improving the ability of these families to access justice and other supports where family violence occurs,” Ms Wright said. “More importantly, it may also remove families’ need to do so by preventing violence from ever occurring.”

The full text of Ms Wright’s opening address is available from the Law Council.

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