There have been widespread fears that the Government’s social restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown could see an increased level of family violence, and now the Government has responded by creating a new Covid-19 list for urgent parenting cases to be heard in courts within 72 hours to prioritise those matters involving family violence or risks to children.
Announced by Chief Justice of the Family Court and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Will Alstergren, the new list will be a way for the courts to triage the cases that come in.
There has been a concern over the need to hear cases as fast as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic, as court statistics are showing huge increases in applications filed in the already overcrowded court system. Over just the past month, the Family Court has had a 39% increase in urgent applications and the Federal Circuit Court has had a 23% increase.
The fear has been that lockdown could be exacerbating existing issues in some families, whether because it is effectively locking people up in unsafe situations or because vulnerable people are having difficulties coming to new arrangements with high conflict ex partners. Other factors impacting co-parenting during this time include the temporary closure of supervised contact centres or safe places for child handovers, and travel restrictions influencing access to support.
The agency Women’s Safety NSW recently provided advice to governments from its statewide survey showing a serious escalation in risk for separating families due to Covid-19.
Many of the ways the courts operate have changed in response to the pandemic, with parties currently able to file applications through email and attend hearings through a teleconference, amongst other changes. The new arrangements for the Covid-19 list will remain in place for at least three months. The first new lockdown-related cases will be heard from next week.
What the new list means is that matters are triaged immediately as they come in, by a dedicated registrar who will assess the needs of the case, identifying those cases that are urgent, and allocate the matter to be heard by a judge within 72 hours of assessment.
The action by the courts is welcomed by family violence campaigners. For example, Hayley Foster, CEO of Women’s Safety NSW, said:
“I have no doubt about it, this new measure will save lives. The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia should be commended for this decision.”
“Where there is a domestic violence incident, and children are at risk, police can simply make a provisional order for their protection and an application can be made for the matter to be triaged in the family court or federal circuit court for consideration of interim living and care arrangements that are safe for that family,” Foster said.
Chief Justice Alstergren said:
“I would also like the public to know that if they need to file an urgent application because they have been directly impacted by Covid-19, it will be heard electronically as quickly as possible by a judge from any registry of the courts.”
You can apply to be put on the urgent Covid-19 list via this dedicated court web page, or simply stay up to date with the Family Court’s announcements on Covid-19 changes.
Source: The Guardian
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