Monday, 8 April 2019

Family and Federal Circuit Courts are to harmonise rules

In the midst of the Australian Law Reform Commission review (still underway) and the proposal by Attorney-General Christian Porter to merge the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia seemingly dead in the water (because Parliament is not sitting until the election, and the Bill was not passed), the Chief Justice of the Family Court and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court, Will Alstergreen has announced that the rules will be harmonised:

"The legal profession and the community have called for changes to the family law system. In response, the Courts are taking a major step to improve family law in Australia. This includes establishing, for the first time, a common set of rules, forms and case management in the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

"Thousands of families are involved in family law proceedings in Australia every year. The current system has been criticised as being confusing, inefficient and causing unacceptable delays. This is partly because it involves two different sets of rules, forms and processes. In an effort to rectify this problem, a working group of Judges of both Courts was established in February and government funding has been secured to properly resource this project. This endeavour has been a key priority of Chief Justice Alstergren since his appointment as Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia in October 2017.

"The Chief Justice is pleased to announce that former Federal Court Judge, the Hon Dr Chris Jessup QC, has this week accepted an invitation to Chair the Joint Rules Harmonisation Working Group.  Dr Jessup QC will oversee the harmonisation project, and assist in developing a consistent approach to case management which places a priority on identifying risk to children.

“Dr Jessup QC, assisted by two barristers, will work closely with the Judges in the Working Group to draft a common set of rules and forms, and will be actively involved in consulting with all Judges, the profession and other stakeholders that have an interest in the jurisdiction. The appointment of an independent Chair to this position will ensure objectivity, transparency and confidence in the process.
“Despite the best efforts and integrity of individual Judges of both Courts, and the assistance of the profession, there has been a long history of unacceptable delays in having family law cases heard and determined. That needs to change as does our family law system, and I call upon the profession and other stakeholders to support this vital project as the Courts endeavour to improve access to justice for Australian families. The community should expect no less,” Chief Justice Alstergren said."

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