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Budget Impact on Family Law System*

Posted on 11 May 2017

Budget impact on family law system*

In last night’s Budget, the Government made a number of announcements that will affect the family law system. The Family Law Section is disappointed that the measures do not include the substantial funding boost that the system needs to remedy the very significant delays being experienced by litigants in the Courts, nor to increase legal aid funding (beyond the reversal of the cuts to community legal centres that was announced 2 weeks ago). The Family Law Section welcomes the $10.7 million allocation to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Family Court of Australia and the Family Court of Western Australia, to engage more family consultants to help the courts deal with cases involving vulnerable families.

The Government announced it will invest $12.7 million to establish Parenting Management Hearings. In his media release, the Attorney-General, the Hon George Brandis QC, said that the hearings would provide an innovative forum for resolving simpler family law disputes between self-represented litigants. The Attorney-General’s Budget Paper says that the hearings will be “… fast, informal and less adversarial”, and are expected to relieve the workload of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. It is understood that those managing the hearings will run inquiries and gather evidence to inform their decisions. It is also understood that the hearings will initially be rolled out in Parramatta, with a second site to be identified. The Federal Court of Australia will have responsibility for the corporate administration of the hearings. The Family Law Section was not consulted about this proposal, and will now endeavour to obtain further details of the plan, including whether there are any constitutional issues surrounding the proposal.

Of considerable interest is the announcement that the Australian Law Reform Commission will be asked to conduct a comprehensive review of Australian family law. The Government announced that the ALRC will be asked to identify reforms needed to ensure that the family law system meets the contemporary needs of families and effectively addresses family violence and child abuse. The Commission will report by the end of 2018. Further information will be provided to members once the terms of reference of that review are announced.

Finally, the Attorney-General also announced that public consultation would commence shortly regarding proposed amendments to the Family Law Act to ensure that victims of family violence are not put in a position where they are personally cross-examined by alleged perpetrators, or required themselves to cross-examine their alleged perpetrator.

* source – Law Council of Australia – Family Law Section 10 May 2017