The Family Court of Australia has recently collapsed after a Bill was passed merging the Family Court of Australia with the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
The merger of the courts was met with great resistance from many family law experts including former judges, lawyers, family violence experts, lobbyists and legal bodies who believe that the merger of the Courts will leave vulnerable children and women experiencing family violence exposed.
The role of the Family Court of Australia prior to the merger
The Family Court of Australia was established in 1975 and commenced operation in 1976. It employed judges who were specialised in separation, divorce, complex parenting matters, property settlements and most importantly matters of family violence.
The matters that went before the Family Court of Australia were often complex in nature and involved allegations of domestic violence and child abuse. The judges that heard these matters were highly experienced in hearing such matters and approached them with the required level of sensitivity.
What has changed?
The merger of the Family Court of Australia with the Federal Circuit Court of Australia means that both courts have merged into the Federal Circuit Court. This merger means that complex family law matters will be thrown into a pool of cases including migration and bankruptcy. The merger also means that family law cases may be heard by judges who do not have any experience in hearing Family Law matters.
The Governments response ?
The government has insisted that the merger will result in the currently overrun system, which for years has been criticised for its delays, becoming more efficient with more cases being resolved yearly.
The response of those opposed to the merger ?
Over 155 stakeholders in Australia’s family law system including 11 retired Judges from the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia are signatory to an open letter to the Attorney General opposing the merger of the Courts.
Those opposed to the merger of the Courts say:
- The merger will result in one generalist, under resourced and overburdened Court.
- The merger will result in a loss of structured systematic specialisation and result in the appeals division being dismantled.
- That there was no evidence as to any enquires being made into the impact of such a merger on family domestic and sexual violence survivors prior to passing of the Bill.
- That children’s services, groups and advocates were not consulted prior to the merger.
- That a failure to have a specialised court would result in survivors of family violence being exposed to unnecessary risk.
- That the merger will increase delay, costs and stress endured by families in the system.
The open letter submitted by concerned stake holders to the Attorney-General can be found here: Open Letter – Family Court merger opposed by 155 stakeholders.pdf (lawcouncil.asn.au)
Media release from the Family court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia
The Honourable Justice William Alstergren, Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia has issued a Joint Statement from the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia which can be found here: Media Release – Statement from the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia – Family Court of Australia