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MEDIA RELEASE: Family Law Courts Crisis. Cronulla Family Lawyer Antonella Sanderson confronts the ABC QandA panel over the crisis facing the Family Law system.

Family Law ABC QandA
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For immediate release
Wednesday 22 February 2017

Antonella Sanderson, Principal Solicitor & Director of Family Law Matters
Antonella Sanderson, Principal Solicitor & Director of Family Law Matters

Our very own Family Law Matters Director & Principal Solicitor, Antonella Sanderson had the opportunity to address the panel on ABC‘s Q&A on 20 February 2017. See the video here for Antonella’s insights and questioning about the crisis facing the Family Law courts and the impact this has on families looking for resolution and closure.

It’s a significant issue as the delays create frustration and anxiety for families already experiencing an extremely challenging time. Statistics gathered from parliamentary sources identify that the final orders caseload for the past five years shows that the number of applications filed has exceeded the number of applications finalised every successive year, with the exception of 2011-2012. There is currently a backlog in excess of 1,500 matters, and this is expected to grow.

The median time from filing to first defended hearing for final orders in the Sydney and Parramatta Registries, is 22.72 months. This means that parties must wait for almost two years from the date of filing an application to have their matter heard by a judicial officer. Parties may then wait for a further, lengthy period for a judgment and final orders to be delivered.

Antonella was glad to have been given the opportunity to share her question to a national audience. She said;

“In response to my question about the resourcing crisis currently experienced in the Family Law Courts, Senator Brandis gave some explanation about the differences between the two Courts dealing with Family Law cases.  Although he focused on the number of judicial officers appointed, currently 103, no mention was made of how that number is determined, nor whether there was any correlation between the number of judges appointed and the actual needs of the Court.  Senator Brandis alleged that the introduction of the “well staffed” Federal Circuit Court has relieved the Family Court’s workload.  The difficulty is the Federal Circuit Court is arguably suffering even more than the Family Court – with each Judge having to deal with about 1,000 new cases each year on top of their existing workload.

The Senator did seem to acknowledge that the Family Law Courts were under pressure, and expressed he wished he had more funding to allocate more resources – however his budget was limited.  Clearly, there is not enough money in the Attorney-General’s coffers to properly resource the Family Law Courts.

Senator Brandis pointed out that the Federal Government has spent $200M of “additional money” on new programs targeting women’s safety – which is to be applauded in light of the alarming reports about domestic violence against women – however, the delay in the Family Law system gives perpetrators the perfect opportunity to continue exposing their victims to intimidation, control tactics and prolonging their fear for years while the case remains unresolved.

As so eloquently put by Barrister Julian Burnside, what is needed in this inadequately resourced and failing system is more judicial officers – in both courts – to properly manage their caseloads.  If the Attorney-General has a limited budget to make that provision, then perhaps the Government needs to assess the allocation of budgets over all portfolios.  This resourcing crisis cannot be resolved by the Attorney-General convincing himself that the Family Law Courts are well-staffed and have their full complement of 103 judges.  The problem is being ignored, and one cannot help but wonder what must happen before the Attorney-General and this Government take some responsibility to properly resource the Family Law Courts – what manner of tragedy must unfold for this crisis to be taken as seriously as the domestic violence epidemic.  In the words of the Chief Justice of the Family Court, benign neglect is not an acceptable option.”

An Ongoing Crisis

In an article published by The Daily Telegraph this month it was revealed that the Family Court is drafting in extra judges to Sydney — including one from Hobart — to blitz a backlog in custody cases.

“The dramatic move follows budget cuts of up to $30 million in the Family and Federal Circuit Courts.

The Family Court deals with about 10 per cent of the more complicated family law trials while Federal Circuit Court judges are dealing with between 500 to 700 family law cases at a time because of a lack of resources as the legal profession’s representative bodies including the NSW Law Society have been pushing for more judges.”

The delays experienced in the Sydney Family Law Courts has been a hot topic of conversation within the family law community for an ongoing period of time. In a media release issued by the NSW Bar Association on 30 November 2015 it was highlighted that the Federal Government cannot ignore the widening gap between the crushing caseload of the Federal Circuit Court and the number of available judges who can hear them.  On behalf of the very concerned legal profession, the Presidents of the NSW Law Society and the NSW Bar Association have repeatedly voiced their concerns with the Attorney General and the Prime Minister.

In 2014 – 2015 more than 95,300 cases were litigated and divorce cases processed in the Federal Circuit Court. More than 83,000 family law filings were finalised. The Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court revealed at the Family Law Section’s National Conference in October 2016 that Judges are managing a load of 1000 new cases, on top of their existing backlog.  The high work load placed on the courts sees the discussion turn to judicial appointments and proper Government funding for the Family Law Courts.

What do you think about the responses?


For more information or to arrange an interview with Antonella Sanderson please email info@familylawmatters.com.au or call 02 9523 3007 or contact Family Law Matters by email.

To see the full QandA episode for 20 February 2017 click here.

To watch the Family Law segment on Facebook click here.