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‘Stubborn, wrongheaded’ approach to family law will fail

The federal government’s approach to family law will see it advocate again for a “bad law” to be passed by parliament, which it failed to pass in the last term, argues the Law Council president.

Speaking on Monday night at the Newcastle Law Society’s Annual Members’ Dinner, LCA president Arthur Moses SC said that we are “on the eve” of the government reintroducing the “fundamentally flawed merger bill”, which will see the abolition of the specialist Family Court.

“The government’s stubborn and wrongheaded approach to family law will see it advocate again for a bad law to be passed by parliament – a law which it failed to pass in the last parliament. This approach is not only irrational but is extremely disrespectful to the views of the significant stakeholders in the family violence services sector,” Mr Moses said.

“These dedicated professionals who understand this area better than any member of the government have made it clear that this policy will hurt children and families. As lawyers and members of our community, we all have a stake in this, regardless of where and what we practice.”

He reiterated that “specialisation matters” when it comes to addressing the inherent issues with the family law system.

“There is a dire need to resource and reform the family law system. We do not accept, though, that the way the government has sought to go about this would deliver meaningful reform,” he said.

“Last year, the Attorney-General announced in May a proposal to merge the specialist Family Court into the generalist Federal Circuit Court. There was no consultation with the community or the profession over the proposal – only with three heads of jurisdiction.

“The Law Council vehemently opposed the merger last year, and we will continue to oppose it because we do not support bad policy that will hurt children and families. With or without further amendment, we remain concerned that the merger will result in the loss of a standalone, dedicated Family Court as we know it, to the detriment of those in need of specialist family law assistance.

“Further, we do not accept the purported efficiencies it has been claimed the merger will produce. Rather, we are concerned it will further increase cost, time and stress for families.”

The merger fails, Mr Moses continued to alleviate the “fundamental problems plaguing the system”, including the risk of victims of family violence falling through the cracks.

“Abolishing a standalone specialist family court, whether directly or by abeyance, is no fix. Refusing to inject desperately needed funds and resources into a crippled system unless the parliament votes for the government’s plan is certainly no fix,” he argued.

“We are not alone in holding these concerns – they are shared by stakeholders and family violence support providers including Women’s Legal Services Australia, Rape and Domestic Violence NSW and Community Legal Centres.

Instead, the profession needs to retain a specialist, standlone family court, there must be “alternative holistic structural reform of the system”, and the government must adequately consult with stakeholders and carefully consider their recommendations.

“To suggest any one of these propositions is ‘radical’ is a fake argument. There should be nothing radical about the concept that critical social justice infrastructure should not be irrevocably altered without informed consultation and discussion with those who use the court, work in the court, or whose lives are irreversibly shaped by its decisions,” Mr Moses said.