The Law Council of Australia (LCA) has strongly welcomed the wholesale review of the family law system, announced by Attorney-General Senator George Brandis QC earlier this week.
Mr Brandis revealed he has commissioned the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to undertake the “first comprehensive review of the family law system since the commencement of the Family Law in 1976”. He announced he has appointed Professor Helen Rhoades to lead the review, which will commence on 1 October 2017 and will report by 31 March 2019.
“This review is necessary and long overdue. Australian families and their needs have significantly evolved since the 1970s,” the Attorney-General said in a statement.
“The review of the family law system will be broad and far reaching, focusing on key areas of importance to Australian families.
“These include ensuring the family law system prioritises the best interests of children, best addresses family violence and child abuse, and supports families, including those with complex needs to resolve their family law disputes quickly and safely while minimising the financial burden.”
LCA president Fiona McLeod SC said the legal body is looking forward to contributing to the review.
“The Law Council has long been warning that our family law system is in crisis, primarily due to a lack of funding and resourcing,” Ms McLeod said.
“For that reason we welcome this review and especially the selection of the ALRC to oversee it. It is also very pleasing to see the ‘pressures (including, in particular, financial pressures)’ on the courts included in the terms of reference.
“While the number and complexity of family law cases has increased sharply in recent years, resourcing has not adequately increased to compensate.
“Those on the frontline of our family law system have been sounding the alarms for years. So ‘the appropriate, early and cost-effective resolution of all family law disputes’ [included in the terms of reference] is a very appropriate focus of recommendations in this review.”
Ms McLeod added that the current lack of resources available has meant that “families facing the most serious family law issues are waiting for up to three years or more before a final trial”.
“The Law Council looks forward to contributing to this review, however we note that any significant recommendations for reform will not be [implemented] without corresponding funding,” she said.
“Of course, properly funding the court system also means properly funding legal assistance services, which are still chronically underfunded according to the Productivity Commission.
“For this reason we are pleased to see that this review’s scope also includes instructions to consider existing reports relevant to ‘access to justice’.”
One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson also responded to the news of the comprehensive review into the family law system taking place, describing it as a “clear win” for her party.
“No one within the government was interested in dealing with family law until I returned to Parliament and hounded both the Attorney-General and Prime Minister,” Senator Hanson said.
Last year, Senator Hanson was subject to criticism by family law experts when she called for a family law tribunal to replace the courts, saying that the entire system had worsened in the last 20 years and was “unworkable” and “in desperate need of change”.