The Law Council of Australia says legislation merging the country’s Family Court into a single generalist court will not alleviate the fundamental problems plaguing the family law system, including the risk of victims of family violence falling through the cracks.
Responding to the re-introduction this week of what the council says is the flawed bill to merge the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court, a broad coalition of groups has again called on the Federal Parliament to reject the legislation and consider holistic structural reform of the family law system.
This should include a response to this year’s report by the Australian Law Reform Commission that clearly recommended the retainment and enhancement of specialisation and consideration of an alternative model for a specialised, stand-alone family law court system.
In an open letter 117 organisations and individuals have called on the Attorney-General to abandon the government’s proposed family law courts merger and instead strengthen specialisation in family law and family violence.
The letter says the merger will result in the loss of a stand-alone dedicated Family Court as it now exists, to the detriment of those in need of specialist family law assistance:
- By reducing from three to one the number of Family Court judges that hear appeals from the Federal Circuit Court;
- Failing to guarantee in the future a minimum number of judges in the Family Court; and
- Failing to broadly guarantee expertise in the appointment of judges.
“This misstep will harm families. For more than 40 years, the Family Court has been a premier legal institution, a specialist superior court admired by other family law jurisdictions around the world for its innovative management of the most complex and difficult family law matters,” says Law Council President Arthur Moses SC.
“The bill, will not produce efficiencies, reduce delays, or deliver anything of real value. Nor will they reduce complexity or legal costs in the family law system. In fact, it could make the system worse.”
Signatories to the open letter include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations, sexual and family violence peak bodies and services, health peak bodies and services, disability peak bodies and services, community organisations and legal experts.