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Proposed Reforms To The Federal Courts

Family Law: 23 March 2019

On Wednesday 30 May 2018, the Attorney General's Department announced reforms to the Federal Courts in an attempt to speed up Court wait times for family law matters.

There is no doubt that this issue has been one that has plagued the legal industry for many years, particularly in relation to the family law jurisdiction.  When the Honourable Chief Judge William Alstergren was appointed in December 2017 to his dual commission as Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Deputy Chief Justice to the Family Court of Australia, he vowed to clear an extraordinary backlog of cases.

When His Honour was sworn in he committed to dealing with at least 200 family law matters listed in the Melbourne Registry which had been languishing in the system. Specifically, His Honour said: "It is a priority of mine to ­reduce the length of time that families have to wait to have their family law matter dealt with in the Federal Circuit Court. [1]

As it stands, the Federal Circuit Court of Australia finalises over 85 per cent of family law matters on a final basis with the small percentage of the remaining family law matters being dealt with by the Family Court of Australia. [2]

An overwhelming 90 per cent of the Federal Circuit Court caseload consists of family law matters with only 10 per cent comprising of the matters heard before it relating to migration, bankruptcy and Workplace Law matters. [3]

The Government has proposed to establish a new "Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia(FCFCA) by amalgamating the two Courts into one super Court. An appeal division to deal only with family law matters from the new FCFCA and the existing Family Court of Western Australia will also be created.

The proposal includes a single point of entry for family law matters into the FCFCA.

The FCFCA will be divided into two divisions; the existing Judges of the Family Court of Australia will hear matters in Division 1 while the existing Judges of the Federal Circuit Court will sit in Division 2. The Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice will each hold a dual commission to both Divisions 1 and 2 of the FCFCA.

Specific reform details are yet to be announced however, Aitken Partners will review the proposed legislation with an eye to our clients' needs once it is released. Our family law team lead by experienced Accredited Specialists will support you through the family law processes, by identifying the best strategies to minimise waiting times.

[1] Nicola Berkovic, 'Judge vows to tackle family law backlog', The Australian (online) 27 October 2017

[2] 'Structural reform of the federal courts' Australian Government, Attorney General's Department (online) 30 May 2018

[3] Ibid. 

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