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A-G admits, court merger forced by downturn

A-G admits, court merger forced by downturn

The country's first legal officer has defended the Federal Government's decision to merge general law magistrates into the Federal Court.

THE country's first legal officer has defended the Federal Government's decision to merge general law magistrates into the Federal Court. 

Attorney General Robert McClelland yesterday cited the global financial crisis as contributing to the government's decision to reform the federal courts. 

"An effective and affordable civil justice system has even greater importance in the current economic climate. The global downturn has increased bankruptcies brought on litigation and triggered complex social issues," McClelland said. 

"More than ever before, it's imperative we have a well functioning justice system better equipped to assist people when they most need assistance, advice and guidance."

Speaking in an address to the Commercial Bar Association of Victoria at Owen Dixon Chambers in Melbourne yesterday, the Attorney announced he would be introducing legislation to Parliament to ensure that cases before the Federal Court are "resolved by the simplest means possible".

The Federal Magistrates Court was first created in response to a perceived need for less formal and more flexible processes than those of the Family and Federal Courts, said McClelland, "it has provided a faster, simpler and cheaper option for less complex matters". 

But the Attorney said that since 2001 the court has grown to become the largest federal court in terms of the number of judicial officers and filings. From six magistrates dealing with family law matters, it has grown to 61 magistrates dealing with matters ranging from unfair dismissal, copyright, admiralty law and bankruptcy, he said. 

"Reform is needed to ensure that courts are assisting people to resolve disputes as quickly and as cost effectively as possible. Reform will also ensure that less complex matters are dealt with at the most appropriate level, using simple and cost effective procedures."

Under the reforms, magistrates will hear less complex and shorter matters in the Federal Court, and it will be up to the parties and the Court to choose whether judges or magistrates will deal with their matter. 

McClelland said an expert report released for public comment in November last year found that current arrangements for federal courts are "financially unsustainable", and have led to "confusion among litigants". 


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