There is no excuse for waiting 20 months to appoint a new judge when the mandatory retirement age gives ample forewarning that a position will need to be filled, the Law Council of Australia (LCA) has said.
The LCA pointed to an “inexplicable” year-and-a-half gap between the retirement of a Sydney Family Court judge and Justice Robert McClelland starting in the role.
At-risk children and families are placed at a disadvantage when the federal government delays appointing judges in the Family and Federal Circuit Courts, according to the LCA.
“There is absolutely no excuse for a failure by any government to ensure that retiring judges are replaced immediately,” said chair of the LCA Family Law Section Rick O’Brien.
“Judges do not retire on short notice. Many retire at the mandatory age of 70. [Others] give many months’ notice of their intention to depart.”
Almost half of the 32 justices of the Family Court will be eligible to retire by the end of this year.
“Our courts will hit breaking point if the government does not lift its performance in terms of replacing judges,” said Mr O’Brien.
In a climate of severe underfunding, the lack of responsiveness to replacing judges is “making a bad situation much worse”, according to the LCA.
“At a time when the horror of child sex abuse and domestic violence have been rightly brought into the public spotlight, the government should at least be ensuring there are not gaping holes in our Family Court judicial roster,” said LCA president Duncan McConnel (pictured).
“Yes, the family court system desperately needs more funding. Yes, we need to increase the number of judges. But at a bare minimum, we need to ensure that when judges predictably retire we are able to replace them immediately so that cases can continue to be heard in something resembling a timely manner.”