The Opposition has slammed the Government's proposed integration of the Federal Magistrates Court into the Family Court.
"This decision is a grave mistake," shadow Attorney-General George Brandis told the Senate on Wednesday. "In our view, if the Rudd Government proceeds with its plan to abolish the Federal Magistrates Court, and drive all family law cases into the more expensive Family Court, the result will be increased costs, longer delays and less accessible justice."
Controversially, Brandis also accused members of the Family Court of bias in their support of the Government's implementation of the Semple Review recommendations.
"The Family Court is strongly in favour of it - and one cannot help but detect more than a whiff of judicial empire-building in the Family Court's eagerness to take over most of the Federal Magistrates Court."
Brandis's comments follow last week's announcement of the abolition of the Federal Magistrates Court by the Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland, and the subsequent allocation of court funding in the Federal Budget.
However, Sydney-based family law specialist John Quinn, of John R Quinn & Co, sided with the Government on the issue, agreeing with McClelland's comments that the current system created confusion for litigants and additional work for family lawyers.
"Litigants have no idea why they should be in this court or that court, and you have different processes in the family court to the processes in the Federal Magistrates Court," says Quinn.
"It's a matter of pure logic that [the restructure] will stop some duplication. As I say, a lot of the work is done by the same person whether they are the registrar in the Federal Magistrates court or the Family Court or whatever - it's the same person doing the same job."
Quinn said the more pressing issue was the shortage of judges, particularly given the recent enactment of the new de-facto relationships legislation. "The problem is the delay getting to a final hearing. You can move the deckchairs around the Titanic, but at the end of the day you need more people judging cases so that these things can get through faster."
-- Laura MacIntyre
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