The Chief Justice of the Family Court, Diana Bryant, has spoken out about family violence and has called on the Government to adequately fund the family courts which are at the frontline in dealing with parenting disputes involving family violence. Funding will ensure that families that are involved in family law disputes, and have experienced family violence, can be dealt with in a timely way; that issues relating to the safety of children can be quickly identified; and to ensure that there is adequate capacity to hear and determine interim arrangements pending a final hearing.
At the Judicial Conference of Australia’s colloquium held in Adelaide on Saturday 10 October, Chief Justice Bryant was part of a panel with Rosie Batty, Chief Magistrate of South Australia, Elizabeth Bolton and Chief Magistrate of Victoria, Peter Lauristen to discuss issues relating to domestic violence and courts.
Chief Justice Bryant took the opportunity on Saturday to congratulate the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull on his announcement some weeks ago, allocating $100 million towards addressing issues of family violence.
Chief Justice Bryant said, “The Australian public is rightly outraged at the prevalence of family violence. It should not be tolerated and as a community we need to take a stance, which is why I am very pleased that the Government announced its safety package addressing family violence which will see $100 million dedicated towards programs that will provide a safety net for women and children at high risk of experiencing violence.”
Whilst the Government is to be commended for this package, there has been no public mention of additional funds for the courts. The Chief Justice said, “Of course, education, early intervention and the like are absolutely critical investments in our fight to eliminate family violence. But while we as a society are creating the tomorrow we want, the courts must face the today we have.”
“It is for this reason that it is imperative for front line services assisting victims of family violence to be adequately funded, including courts dealing with family law disputes.”
The Chief Justice said that although many parenting cases are resolved by mediation, mediation is not appropriate in many cases involving family violence, and is one of the exceptions to mandatory pre-filing mediation. This means that most of the cases involving family violence will require judicial determination.
Chief Justice Bryant identified the need for the urgent replacement of retired judges, which she said are believed to be imminent, and the need for some additional funding to the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court to alleviate the current financial pressure. This would enable the courts to continue to provide existing services especially in rural and regional areas where family violence is no less prevalent than in the major cities.
The areas where additional funds to the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court are needed include an increased number of Family Consultants to undertake risk assessments and provide urgent reports (particularly for interim cases) and more Registrars for case management in interim hearings involving family violence.
The Chief Justice also highlighted the need for additional funding for supervised contact centres which currently have waiting lists of up to six months.
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