2 December 2004

The Family Court's Children's Cases Program (CCP), an innovative and ambitious new approach to parenting proceedings, is set to become the future of family law litigation, Chief Justice of the Family Court, Diana Bryant declared in a keynote address entitled 'The Future of the Family Court', which was publicly released today.

The Chief Justice, presenter of the Third Annual Austin Asche Oration hosted by the Family Mediation Centre last week in Melbourne,
said the CCP, an initiative of the former Chief Justice, Alastair Nicholson, had become the Government's preferred model for a less adversarial process in family law matters involving children.

"[The CCP] is one of the most important features of the future of family law litigation, and unquestionably an exciting initiative," the Chief Justice said. "It is ground breaking in the context of family law, but for the last three decades there has been an observable trend towards a departure from strictly adversarial proceedings in civil cases. The Family Court was well down the track towards a proposal for change when the Standing Committee was considering less adversarial alternatives."

"[But] it is now reasonably clear from the recently released discussion paper that the Government is keen to legislate for the less adversarial features of the Children's Cases Program."

A key feature of the CCP, which is currently being piloted at the Court's Sydney and Parramatta Registries, is the departure from some of the more traditional elements of the adversarial process, particularly from certain provisions of the Commonwealth Evidence Act 1995.

"The judge plays the leading role in relation to the conduct of the hearing, including deciding the issues to be determined, the evidence to be called, the way the evidence is received and the manner in which the hearing is conducted.

"The concept of one climactic trial is dispensed with. The focus throughout the hearing is on future parenting and not on historical issues that have plagued the parties."

The CCP is yet to be fully evaluated, but so far the Program has dealt with a variety of matters, ranging from child abuse and relocation cases to straight forward contact disputes, in much quicker time frames.

"Presently, the normal process would involve the parties in a 16 month wait to trial at the Sydney Registry, whereas the CCP offers a completion within three months."

The Chief Justice added that while legislative change was required for CCP to be implemented beyond the pilot program, it was worth noting some of the comments from participants and other observers which suggest the Children's Cases Program is truly the way forward for family law.

"An experienced court officer, having witnessed several CCP cases as well as many traditional hearings said: 'The person who thought of this should get a medal. It makes me proud to be an Australian'."

Note to media: Further comment from the Chief Justice on the Children's Cases Program and the public perception of the Court may be obtained from the Third Annual Austin Asche Oration. Copies of the speech are available at the top of this page or by emailing  the Media Manager.