National legal advocacy body Law Council of Australia has recommended that bills to reform the structure of the existing Federal Circuit Court and Family Court “not be implemented at this point in time”.
In its submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia Bill 2018 and the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018, LCA argued that the federal government should defer further consideration of the bills until after receipt and proper time has been given for consideration of the final Australian Law Reform Commission Report, which is due at the end of March 2019.
While LCA agreed that there are “significant shortcomings” in the dual family law courts structure, and the management of the family law system, and that improved outcomes for families and children following the breakdown of relationships must be achieved, it said the “court structural changes as proposed by the bills, will produce efficiencies, reduction in delays and deliverables for the community”.
It further noted that it did not agree with the government’s assertions that the bills – in their current form – would “reduce complexity or legal costs in the family law system”, nor that “the PwC Report makes a business case or policy foundation supportive of the changes proposed by the bills”.
In addition, it said it did not understand why “government chose not to give either to the Family Law Council or to the ALRC a commission to examine structural change”.
It recommended that the move to a “single point of entry, harmonisation of rules and forms, and unification of procedures” in the family law system be implemented without further delay by the relevant heads of jurisdictions.
“They are matters in respect of which there appears little controversy as to their merits and have near universal acceptance (and can be implemented by reference to the rules of court with no legislative amendments required),” LCA wrote in its submission.
It did note, however, that it was “timely” for the government to have commissioned the ALRC to undertake a “far-reaching review” of the Australian family law system.
“Upon receipt of the ALRC Report and its proposals, recommendations and critiques, consideration should be given to whether the stated aims of the bills can be better and more effectively achieved by proper funding of the existing court system, timely appointment of judicial officers, improved case management, more intensive use of registrars, proper funding of legal aid, and/or the structural reforms to the family law courts system put forward in the Semple Report and by the [NSW Bar Association].”