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Family Law

Will parenting tribunals go ahead?

By June 2, 2021February 23rd, 2024No Comments

Will parenting tribunals go ahead? There are hints in this year’s Federal Budget that the Government’s proposed parenting management hearings, aka parenting tribunals, will soon be given funding to go ahead. The Budget announcement comes weeks after the so-called architect of the scheme, Professor Patrick Parkinson of the University of Queensland, discussed the fact that the tribunals were likely to go ahead as per the recently released recommendations of the Parliamentary family law inquiry. The tribunals had originally been proposed in a bill back in 2017 but this legislation did not pass parliament, however Professor Parkinson noted the difference is that now it appears to be endorsed by all sides of politics.

Will parenting tribunals go ahead?

Budget 2021 and family law

In this year’s Budget, there’s an “unprecedented funding boost” of $100 million over four years to include a massive injection of cash to hire more court staff, registrars and judges. There will be two more Family Court judges hired, eight more Federal Circuit Court judges and another 80 court staff including 52 new registrars.

It’s welcome news for Australian families which have been stuck with an underperforming, underfunded family court system for many years. Hopefully this will help reduce court backlogs as planned, as well as reduce costs for consumers.

Some of the new funding is also earmarked to enable the transition to the newly merged “FCFA” court, subsuming both the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Courts into one entity, which is to go ahead from 1 September 2021.

CEO and Principal Registrar of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court, Mr David Pringle, announced the Budget measures as “the largest single resourcing injection the Courts have received” to date.

Hinting at the prospect of parenting management hearings/tribunals going ahead, perhaps rebranded, Mr Pringle added that, “Another important initiative is the introduction of dispute resolution conferences in parenting matters which can be jointly mediated by a registrar and child-expert family consultant”. No further detail on such conferencing was given, so it’s not clear if this refers to the tribunal-style parenting management hearings, which are devised to have a panel of three experts.

Meanwhile, the PPP500, Small Claims property pilot was re-funded for 18 more months. The Budget announcement also mentions supporting other key projects like the Lighthouse Project and “broader initiatives to tackle family violence and the protection of vulnerable parties and children involved in the family law system”.

The idea of parenting management hearings was criticised when it was first introduced in 2017, including by the Law Council of Australia. The Council argued the proposed tribunals were a “radical departure” from our existing systems and should be abandoned, with funding going to our existing court system instead. The Council said the scheme only added another layer of complexity for consumers, while possibly diluting the effectiveness of the system for more vulnerable consumers such as family violence victims. The Council said the scheme had also been developed without any consultation with the legal profession or other stakeholders.

How the hearings would work

The hearings were promoted by the Government as a way of allowing self-represented litigants a “fast, informal way to resolve disputes outside the adversarial court system”. In a parenting management hearing, self-represented parties would have their matters heard by “specialist multi-disciplinary panels” comprising practitioners from the fields of family law, family dispute resolution, family violence, psychology and child development. 

Per Professor Parkinson:

“[The tribunal] will have an experienced family lawyer as chairperson, and appropriate experts including mental health professionals, drug and alcohol specialists, and those with extensive experience on issues of domestic violence and child abuse. The tribunal, assisted by an independent children’s lawyer, will adopt an inquisitorial approach.”

An inquisitorial system is one where the court is actively involved in proof of facts by investigating the case, rather than acting more like a referee.

At the time it was introduced, the previous Chief Justice of the Family Court, Diana Bryant, had also registered her doubts about the scheme, asking, ‘Why do we need a tribunal rather than a judge? A tribunal is a very different creature indeed from a judge hearing out as a less adversarial way. One of the hallmarks of our [court] system is transparency, and part of that comes with open courts so that anyone can attend and listen to a hearing. Will there be an equally open hearing with a tribunal?’”

Will parenting tribunals go ahead? Professor Parkinson says the next step is for the Government to decide which of the family law inquiry’s recommendations to accept.

Do you need assistance with a family law matter? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance.

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