New reports from the Federal Circuit Court have shown that waiting times for Brisbane families have been cut in half.
Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts welcomed the reports, which showed that the FCC – which hears 88 per cent of Australia’s family law disputes – has seen the average waiting time go from 14.6 months in 2018 to 8.6 months.
Nearly halving the waiting time is an “incredible feat”, Mr Potts said, as the number of judges had not doubled over that time nor had extra resources been supplied to the courts.
“This Australian-first case management experiment saw three judges undertake intensive case management of all cases until they settled or went to trial,” he said.
“Obviously, this is working, but for how long? It is the clearest demonstration that a system that has been chronically underfunded for the past 30 years works when proper resources are made available.”
What is required is constant resourcing, he argued, not intensive stop-gaps.
“Currently, we are seeing judges in the FCC handling up to 600 cases on their docket – this produces a system where judges are under constant strain and recent reports on delays of judgments are evidence of a system at breaking point,” he said.”
Mr Potts said that QLS has called for more judges for many years, most recently in 2018’s inquiry into the family law system.
“We are still dead against this proposed model for a merger of the Family Court into the FCC – it does not solve a problem, in fact, it creates a new problem,” he posited.
“This move would water down the expertise of judges who actually work in family law and understand the complexities and emotions the families are facing. We do not want to see families disadvantaged by abolishing a court well-versed in these sensitive and intricate matters, in favour of a court juggling multiple areas of law.”
The role of specialist judges properly resourced has a proven history of success to work in the cut-and-thrust of high emotion in family law matters, he continued.
This should not be abandoned, he surmised, and suggested that additional judges would further assist families and children whose relationship difficulties must be resolved by the courts.
“We have seen waiting times halved through this experiment, imagine seeing them halved again when adequate resourcing is given to these courts?”