Stakeholders condemn passing of Family Court merger bill

Former judges and legal support services have expressed their dismay at the passage of legislation that will see the Family Court combined with the Federal Circuit Court. 

The controversial Federal Government bill passed through the Senate late on Wednesday (17 February) with the support of One Nation’s Pauline Hanson and independent senator Rex Patrick. 

It comes after family law experts and other parliamentarians expressed their opposition to the merger

Attorney-General Christian Porter said yesterday (18 February) that the changes would result in a simpler, faster and cheaper legal system for those hoping to settle family disputes. 

“Successive governments have been talking about delivering reform of the family courts for decades—the Morrison Government has delivered,” Mr Porter said. 

The Federal Circuit Court has jurisdiction over a broad range of matters, including bankruptcy, copyright, migration and family law. The FCC was established to alleviate the strain on the Federal Court and Family Court, by dealing with less complex cases. 

Australia’s peak law body yesterday joined a chorus of stakeholders in the family court system to criticise the passing of the bill. 

The Law Council of Australia, Women’s Legal Services Australia, Community Legal Centres Australia and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services are among a coalition of more than 155 stakeholders who opposed the Government’s bill to abolish the specialist, stand-alone Family Court.

In a joint statement released yesterday, the LCA and supporters said: “The passage of the Government’s flawed merger bill by the barest of margins is a disappointing outcome for Australian children and families and tasks Australian judges with an impossible task.’’ 

“For three years, we have put the merger proposal to proof. Not because it was popular to do so but to put to challenge a fundamental change that will directly impact on Australian lives and hard-working judges because it is our job to advocate for the best outcomes for children, families and victim-survivors of family violence. 

“There is much more evidence to support the damage that will be done by the merger, including harm to families and people experiencing family violence. The Government and new Court will be under heavy scrutiny to deliver court efficiency, resolve 8,000 additional cases, reduce costs, reduce the time separating families will spend before the court and reduce delays, even allowing for the impact of COVID-19.  

“While we respect the will of the Parliament, what is disappointing about the process has been that the advice of highly respected experts has been consistently disregarded. Despite this, many have stood up to make their voices heard, made written and oral submissions and representations to Parliamentarians to seek to inform public debate and assist the Parliament to consider this bill. 

“We thank stakeholders who have engaged in discussions about this important issue for their contributions and their tireless advocacy for Australian families.” 

Read the full Attorney-General’s office’s media release and the joint statement from the Law Council of Australia, Women’s Legal Services Australia, Community Legal Centres Australia and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services.

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