WLSA Cautions for DV Victims’ Safety in Family Court Overhaul

Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) cautiously welcomes some aspect of the planned amalgamation of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court and attempts to reduce court waiting times, but fears decreased specialisation may lead to unsafe outcomes for domestic and family violence (DFV) victims and for children.

Federal Attorney-General, Christian Porter today announced the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Courts will be combined into a new court to be known as the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA) from 1January 2019 in an effort to cut substantial waiting times.

WLSA spokesperson Angela Lynch says the organisation cautiously welcomes part of the proposal.

“WLSA welcomes the rationalisation of rules between the two courts. For our clients, the current system is complicated, confusing and expensive with two sets of rules leading to inconsistent outcomes. We’re supportive of moves to rectify this.”

However, Ms Lynch says WLSA has fears the approach may dilute specialisation of the family court needed to safely deal with its high volume of domestic and family violence matters as the proposed changes will potentially see more Judges without family law expertise hearing family court matters.

“The numbers are huge. We know at least 50 per cent of Family Court matters involve domestic violence and child abuse,” Ms Lynch said.

“At a time when other jurisdictions across Australia are recognising the magnitude of domestic violence in the community and are responding with specialised services such as the Gold Coast DV specialist court it’s an interesting choice to say the least to move away from a specialised legal response.”

“If we have Judges without the specialised knowledge and training in the complex dynamics of domestic violence and experience in family law, we will see an increase in unsafe and unfair outcomes for victims of domestic violence and their children.”

“We should be increasing judge specialisation not reducing it,”

Ms Lynch said WLSA awaits further detail on the planned changes but says there are also fears that ultimately the decision may result in less resources for family law as the new court may have to compete with the federal court for funding.

“We would like to see more detail. At present there are a lot of questions. It’s not yet clear to us how a rationalisation, without investment in resources will increase capacity.”

Read our full media release here

Read a Guardian interview with our National Coordinating Committee member, Angela Lynch, CEO Women’s Legal Service QLD, about these reforms here

Read the Government’s announcement here

Author: Women's Legal Services Australia

Women's Legal Services Australia is a national network of community legal centres specialising in women’s legal issues. Contact us at wlsa AT clc.net.au.