‘Unrelenting workloads and significant backlogs’ driving need for court reform
A snapshot of the need for reform to the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court has been delivered by the Honourable Chief Judge Will Alstergren.
Addressing the National Family Law Conference 2018, the judge who will soon become the fifth Chief Justice of the Family Court said pending cases in both courts “is causing great challenges, not only for the courts but also the litigants.”
“Quite frankly, families are spending far too much time and money in our courts. Those families, who because of delay become more entrenched, more vulnerable and more stressed while they remain in our court,” he continued.
Chief Judge Will Alstergren prefaced his speech by disclosing that he could not talk about the proposed legislation currently before parliament, but did highlight “one of the criticisms of having a system with two courts operating with almost identical jurisdictions, is that those courts have different case management systems, forms and rules.”
In calling for reform, the Chief Judge said “there has been a chorus of people calling for reform and very few (if any) arguments to the contrary.”
“The courts administering family law are suffering from unrelenting workloads and significant backlogs resulting in unacceptable delays,” he continued.
Noting “there are over 105,000 family law proceedings issued each year, at least 20,000 of those require judicial determination,” the soon to be Chief Justice of the Family Court said “the pending cases in both courts is causing great challenges, not only for the courts but also the litigants.”
As of October 2017, the Federal Circuit Court’s median time to trial from filing was 15.6 months, the Chief Judge said, who also flagged a “considerable increase in pending cases.”
“The pending cases in family law across both courts is now 21,000 cases,” he said.
“To put that in perspective, both courts could continue to operate – with no listings whatsoever – for the next 12 months and still not clear the backlog of pending cases. Every year that the clearance rates are below 100 per cent the backlog of cases increases.”
Highlighting delays, complexity, inconsistency, duplication and excessive costs as showcasing a need for reform, the Chief Judge indicated these to be “the symptoms of a judicial process under great stress.”
He said in reforming the courts “we must be realistic and pragmatic in our approach.”
“Regardless of the outcome of the proposed legislation, there is a lot that can be achieved by the courts and the profession to improve the system.”