COURT

Public feedback sought on Family Court review

Tuesday 20 September 2011, 3:06PM
By Simon Power
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Justice Minister Simon Power is calling for public feedback on a discussion document into the Government’s ground-up review of the Family Court.

The Family Court is the second busiest court, and deals with families and children at highly stressful times of their lives. In the 2009/10 year it dealt with 58,000 families and 66,976 applications.

“The Government is conducting this review over concerns that since 2004/05 the court’s overall costs have increased by 63 per cent (excluding judicial resourcing), from $83.9 million to $137.1 million while applications to it have remained relatively stable,” Mr Power said.

“And there’s little evidence that this huge cost increase has resulted in improved outcomes, particularly for vulnerable parties and children.

”The research is clear about the negative impact that persistent conflict has on children, and figures show that in 2009/10 it took an average of 306 days to complete a parenting order application compared to 216 days in 2006/07, an increase of 90 days.

“The escalating costs, for no apparent improvement in outcomes, indicate clearly that the Family Court is not as effective and efficient as it could be.

“A culture change is needed to encourage separating parents to resolve matters at the earliest opportunity, and before the conflict becomes entrenched in court."

This document will help shape proposals for Family Court reform in 2012.

Mr Power said the Government’s vision for the Family Court is one where:

  • Vulnerable people and children are protected and prioritised.
  • Access to the court is well managed to avoid unnecessary litigation, people are supported to resolve their disputes outside court, and the court is used only as a last resort.
  • Processes are simple, clear, consistent, and certain, and systems are in place to manage complex cases.
  • Personal responsibility is emphasised and, where appropriate, the costs of accessing the courts are met by users.
  • Decisions are made within a useful and acceptable timeframe and the decisions are logical, workable, and durable so people do not come back to re-litigate their cases.
  • The system is affordable to the taxpayer.

 

“The Family Court is run by dedicated, hard-working judges and practitioners, and in my engagement with them I’ve been impressed with their ability to look beyond their role and think about how the whole system could work better.”

Mr Power is encouraging court users and the public to have their say on the discussion document, which can be downloaded here. Submissions close on 29 February 2012.

As well as written submissions, people who have used the Family Court or have sought family legal advice can complete an online questionnaire about their experiences to feed into the review. The questionnaire, along with background questions and answers, and terms of reference for the review are available here.