Attorney-General Christian Porter’s “deeply flawed model” to reform the family courts system has been rejected in the Senate, which the Law Council applauds as “a win for Australian families”.
The Attorney-General was unable to win crossbench senators’ support to bring the bill to a vote last week on the final sitting day of the Senate before the federal election.
The Morrison Government’s idea of creating a family law “supercourt” by merging the Family Court and Federal Circuit Courts, first conceived in May last year, has been heavily criticised from the start by many stakeholders in the family law industry. The Law Council, for example, has staunchly defended the continued existence of the specialist, standalone Family Court and has insisted that the reform plans be redrawn.
“The Family Court is a vital cornerstone of our legal system. Its work is highly specialised and it deals with some of the most difficult and complex family law matters,” says the President of the Law Council, Mr Arthur Moses SC.
Regarding the Senate rejection of Porter’s family court reform plan, Mr Moses adds:
“We applaud the crossbenchers who took the time to listen to our reasoning, considered this advice, and came to the decision that this was not the right way forward for Australian families and children.”
“For the Government to proceed with this legislation despite the best advice of key stakeholders, and due consultation or consideration of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) as yet unreleased report into the family law system beggars belief.”
“Merging one court with another does not address significant underlying issues, including chronic underfunding and under-resourcing, which have led to crippling delays, pressures and costs. There is no doubt the family law system is in need of reform but this was not the way forward. Our courts need much more funding than they currently receive, and more judges, registrars and counselors must be appointed.”
The Law Council has called on the Government to “provide an immediate funding and resource commitment and use existing rule-making powers to progress a consistent single set of court rules”.
One of the most controversial aspects of Mr Porter’s bill had been the promise to inject funding of $16 million over four years for additional judges and an extra registrar to help address the current backlog of family law cases clogging up the system. The promise of funding had been “contingent on the passage of the bill”, which the Opposition described as “shocking”, saying Porter had “decided to hold the family court system to hostage by tying the funding to support of the bill”. The Opposition added that reform of the family law system would be a high priority for Labor if it wins the next election but “any reforms will be informed by the Australian Law Reform Commission Review and by consultation with the sector”.
A spokesman for Mr Porter told The Age: “The government remains committed to the reform of family law courts to ensure the legal system is better able to support families going through one of the most difficult times of their lives, the breakdown of a relationship.”
Source: Law Council
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