Thursday, 31 May 2018

Family law reform not certain to address Newcastle backlog


Following the announcement of a new judicial appointment at Newcastle's Federal Circuit Court, Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon says she welcomes the move but is dubious whether a backload of family law cases will now be improved.

Mr Terry Betts will take the reigns of the Court, following Judge Steven Middleton's transfer to Queensland in April. 

Ms Claydon wrote to Attorney General Christian Porter at the time, fearful there would be a long lapse before a replacement was announced - as the process has taken as long as seven months in the past.

Newcastle forms one of the nation's biggest registries, with just three judges to carry out hearings, and is a microcosm of an Australia-wide crisis gripping the underresourced family law system.

Terry Betts' appointment came on the same day the Attorney General announced the amalgamation of the Australian Family Court and Federal Circuit Court, in a bid to cut through red tape and stop cases being heard across the different jurisdictions.

It will create a single point of entry for all family law and general Commonwealth law matters through the new combined tribunal, and appeals will be held by a single judge of the Federal Court.

The Law Council of Australia is yet to give their response to the merger, with President Morry Bailes saying they'll need to comb through the finer details of the plan - however agree something needs to be done to shake-up the current system.

"Decades of chronic underfunding of the court system and legal aid has largely contributed to the lengthy delays and backlogs experienced today," Mr Bailes said.

He believes an increasing number of self-represented plaintiffs and defendants due to high legal fees is also chewing up vital time and leading to unjust outcomes.

"Further investment in the courts and legal aid is still required to deliver the best outcomes for children and Australian families," Mr Bailes concluded.

Sharon Claydon is echoing that sentiment and believes more consultation is needed within the Newcastle legal fraternity to assess the merger.

"My Labor colleagues and I are very keen to see the detail of this legislation, because we don't have any of that before us at the moment," she said.

"There's been no mention of any extra funding or resources in the government materials that have been released to date...

"We also know there's been no consultation with practitioners or family law support groups about this merger - had that taken place and there was some funding, we might've been in a position to bring about some relief."

Federal Member for Newcastle, Sharon Claydon addresses a judge shortage at the Newcastle Circuit Court in June 2017. Image: The Herald. 

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