16 October 2007

The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, the Honourable Diana Bryant, today released the Australian Institute of Family Studies evaluation of the way the Court handles cases involving serious allegations of child abuse.

“The Court regards cases that involve allegations of abuse of children as serious matters that need to be handled sensitively and determined quickly,” the Chief Justice said.

“The Magellan case management system was specifically designed to handle cases involving serious allegations of child abuse expeditiously.” 

“Last year the Court commissioned the Australian Institute of Family Studies to evaluate the Magellan case management system.

“I am very pleased that Dr Daryl Higgins of the Institute found that the case management system is achieving its objectives and that both clients and Court staff regard it as a good system.

“The evaluation report has also shown the Court where it can make further improvements so that the Magellan cases move even more smoothly through the Court with less distress to families, particularly children.

“I can assure you that we will now consider how to implement the report’s recommendations in relation to listing practices, national uniformity and the availability of judicial time.

“As with most cases before the Family Court, Magellan cases are complex and the improvements suggested by the researchers will assist the judges to determine difficult legal and factual issues.

“The Court thanks Dr Higgins, and the Institute, for the report – it will help us make evidence based decisions in the best interests of a very important client group – children,” Chief Justice Bryant said.

Magellan is a cooperative process whereby state child protection agencies, which have investigated the family concerned, now provide reports to the Court for its consideration. 

The Attorney-General provided additional funding to Legal Aid so that the availability of independent children’s lawyers for Magellan cases was not limited by funding caps.

The Magellan case management system was first trialled in Melbourne in 1998 and, after evaluation, it was rolled out in all states and territories, except WA, between 2003 and 2006. 

After some years in operation, the AIFS was commissioned to do a formal evaluation and produce a report.

Dr Higgins said, “This evaluation has clearly shown the importance of Magellan as an integrated case-management approach that keenly focuses the evidence gathering and trial processes to ensure the best outcomes for children and families in post-separation parenting disputes where allegations of abuse are raised. 

“Compared with the previous system, Magellan cases are dealt with more quickly (4.6 months on average), have fewer court events and have more consistency as they are dealt with by fewer judicial officers.

“In the words of one of the judges who participated in the evaluation, it’s a question of how best to hear these cases with least damage to vulnerable people and making the best use of resources.  Magellan is an important systemic change that has been shown to be successful in achieving this aim of providing a better response.”

“I am sure legal practitioners and clients of the Court will be interested in this report and pleased to see another demonstration of the Court’s willingness to examine new ways of doing things and then test their effectiveness,” the Chief Justice said.