Alarming family law system delays stress urgent need for funding help, Law Council says

Severely delayed cases involve some of Australia’s most vulnerable, Law Council president says

Alarming family law system delays stress urgent need for funding help, Law Council says

The Law Council of Australia is urging the government to boost funding to the family law system, where it says delays are reaching “alarming levels.”

The significant increase in delays in the system are readily apparent in the results of the latest Report on Government Services, released by the Productivity Commission last week. The report revealed that the backlog of family law cases between 2012-13 and 2018-19 has grown by 34% in the Family Court and by 63% in the Federal Circuit Court.

Pauline Wright, Law Council of Australia president, said that the most pressing increase is in cases more than a year old that are yet to be heard. The report revealed that the number of non-appeal matters before the Family Court that have been in the system for more than two years has increased 44% over the last year.

The number of matters that have been waiting for more than 12 months for a hearing at the Federal Circuit Court has increased by 17%. Wright said that these severely delayed cases involve some of Australia’s most vulnerable.

“Justice delayed is justice denied, particularly when some of these cases involve some of the most vulnerable in our community and allegations of domestic violence. An urgent injection of funds into the family law system is required,” she said.

The Law Council also said that the planned merger of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court is not the solution to these delays. In fact, it could leave the system in a worse state, the council maintained.

“We need a stand-alone, specialist court which understands the complexities involved in family matters. Any merger will diminish this vast expertise and lead to worse outcomes for parents and children across Australia,” Wright said.

The Law Council has been long voicing its opposition to the proposed merger.

“We have been warning for years that the system is under strain and that backlogs are increasing. More funding should not be made contingent upon the courts’ merger going ahead.  Our family law courts are overwhelmed and in urgent need of additional funding. The stress and pain that families go through because of these delays is unthinkable. Many of these cases are of course complex and lengthy but we should not be seeing such a jump in delays over a period of just 12 months,” she said.

The systems backlogs are caused by decades of chronic under-funding and delays in replacing judicial officers, Wright said. The Law Council said that the decline in management and performance of the two courts reflect the failure of the government to appoint separate chief justices for each of the courts for two years. A major part of the solution is additional funding, Wright said.

“The delays and backlogs are unacceptable. Fund these courts appropriately and we will see delays and backlogs decrease. We can take away the enormous burden being placed on too many families and the relatively small number of judges on whom this huge workload falls,” she said.

 

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