In early August 2019, Attorney-General, Christian Porter (Mr Porter) announced to the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court judges, his plans to reintroduce legislation to abolish the specialist Family Court of Australia as a stand-alone court and merge it with the lower level Federal Circuit Court. Prior to the 2019 election, this legislation failed to receive the support of both houses.
Mr Porter has maintained that this reintroduction has taken into account the opinions from various stakeholders. In his address, he states that “the problems associated with having two separate courts dealing with family law was a structural failure that needed fixing”. For Mr Porter, this change will act as a means of improving the efficiency in family law cases and will aid in clearing the vast backlog of matters that the Family Court already faces. This comes as a shock to some critics, who argue that the key solution to fixing the current problems lies in resourcing and further funding, rather than merging the two Courts.
Referred to as the “flawed family court merger bill”, the Law Council of Australia earlier this year highlighted that the act of merging the two Courts would not solve the underlying issues of the significant underfunding and under-resourcing, the Court users already experience. The merger would merely remove the specialist forum that the Family Court currently has, which is at the detriment of those in need of specialist family law assistance. This was further emphasised by the President of the Law Council of Australia who highlighted that under the existing requirements of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), Federal Circuit Court judges are not required to meet the same statutory requirement of specialisation as those of the Family Court.
Notwithstanding the Law Council of Australia’s criticisms of Mr Porter’s proposed legislation, more than 60 legal organisations have urged Parliament to reconsider the proposal. Many of these organisations are of the belief that merging the two Courts will place the victims of family violence at an even greater risk than before. In particular, a concerned spokesperson of the Women’s Legal Services Australia stated that a high percentage of matters in the Family Court involve family violence and the proposed amendment reintroduced by Mr Porter does not prioritise child and victim safety.
With the growing concerns raised by these bodies from stepping away from our current specialised Family Court Model, it will ultimately be up to Parliament to determine whether this new legislation will be passed. Chamberlains Law Firm will keep you regularly updated in relation to this.