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Countdown to merged Federal Circuit Court and Family Court

The new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia will officially commence operations on 1 September following the passing of legislation to amalgamate the two courts.

The legislation and the new court have been introduced with the intention of changing the conversation about family law litigation in particular. The architecture of that conversation includes asking litigants if there is a smarter, better way for them to separate without the impact, stress and expenses of protracted family law litigation.

There will be a greater emphasis on encouraging parties to settle their disputes, where it is safe to do so, before proceedings are issued and ensuring that, if they do issue, they are aware of the ramifications for them and their families.

For cases that do need to proceed to litigation, the new court seeks to provide a modern, transparent and more efficient system of justice which is aimed at getting these parties through the process as safely, quickly and fairly as possible without undue delay.

It is also aimed at dealing with the increasing rate of family violence in our community by ensuring risks to vulnerable parties and children at high risk are identified at the earliest stage in the litigation and treated appropriately.

For the first time in 21 years, the new court will have a single point of entry and harmonised rules, forms and case management processes to provide a streamlined approach to family law proceedings.

It will simplify procedures and enable cases to be moved through the family law system quickly and fairly and with as little detrimental impact on families and children as possible.

The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Will Alstergren, said that for decades people in the legal profession and the wider community had been calling for change and commenting that the ‘system’ wasn’t working.

“The courts have responded to these calls for change,” he said. “The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia will provide a completely new family law system which focuses on risk, responsiveness and resolution.

“There will also be a significant focus on compliance with court orders, demonstrated by the establishment of a new National Compliance List which will also commence on 1 September 2021.

“Since the legislation passed to establish the new court, we have been working tirelessly towards creating the significant and meaningful change to create the best system we can with the resources available to the court – a system of family law justice that so many people in our community have called for; a system of family law that those who established the Family Court of Australia in 1975 and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia in 1999 envisaged.

“I understand that the family law system has experienced unacceptable delays for many years, and I am determined to develop a system that the Australian community deserves.

“It means, however, that we need to do things differently. We will have a system where identifying risk and safety at the very beginning of every case is a priority, where parties will be given ongoing opportunities for dispute resolution where it is safe to so, and if cases cannot be resolved, it will be listed for a trial before a judge much earlier than previously experienced.”

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