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Federal Circuit Court Chief Judge John Pascoe told members of the Law Council of Australia’s Family Law Section he was considering closures to Federal Circuit Court registries in regional areas, specifically the Parramatta Registry and Wollongong Registry. The basis for proposed closures was lack of funding and resources for Federal Circuit Courts throughout the country. I note that no closures are planned, however the issues raised by Chief Judge Pascoe remain relevant in the family law Courts today.
Any lawyer, judge or litigant involved in a matter in the family law Courts (whether that be the superior Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court) will not deny that the Courts are working beyond their capacity with respect to the number of matters being listed, there is a shorted of Judges to hear matters, and there are lengthy delays to a matter being progressed. It would seem that closure of the Parramatta, Wollongong or other regional Federal Circuit Court Registries may cause more judges to be available to remaining Registries, but it does not explain how the sheer volume of cases will be dealt with.
The volume of cases – whether measured statistically or by simply witnessing how busy regional Registries are – in my view presents the most obvious reason why it is imperative the family law system in Australia retains regional Registries. Without Registries, where does a family go to have their dispute litigated? If they live on the NSW South Coast, are they expected to travel to Sydney and have their matter sit in already overflowing list of matters waiting to be heard? This problem is exacerbated if the matter needs to be listed urgently, whether it is for an application for a Recovery Order of a young child, or to apply for an injunction against a party from using matrimonial funds they have transferred into their sole name, for example.
Family law is a highly discretionary area of law, and in my experience, a matter can benefit from having an understanding of a Judge or Registrar consistently sitting in the same location and understanding the types of matters that come before him or her due to that location. For example, Parramatta and Wollongong Registries have a significantly higher amount of parenting matters compared to Sydney, where “big-money” and complex property matters are also prevalent. It was recently reported the Wollongong Federal Circuit Court Judge – who is supposed to only be in Wollongong part-time but needs to sit almost fulltime due his workload – has 550 matters before him.
Moving of family courts resources from regional areas would also add to the legal costs family law litigants is required pay to have access to justice. It could possibly create even further delays in registries in capital cities (where the current delay is almost three years from the date of filing an application to the date of a final hearing), as the big gap between court dates could cause increased billable work to be done by a litigant’s legal representative, and if an expert report is needed in a matter (which can cost $8,000 to $20,000), it could be out of date by the time it is used at court and an update report is needed to progress the matter. Furthermore, if a party is legally represented, they will be required to pay their solicitor a full days worth of legal fees due to the need for the solicitor to travel 3 hours or more to Sydney and then to wait for the matter to be called. That is not to mention the fact that the litigant will also be required to do the travel – which adds to the stress and turmoil of a court date.
It is imperative that regional Registries remain open permanently for families needing to have their family law disputes heard. The volume of matters means it is not sufficient for the matters to be listed in the “nearest” capital city or for regional registries to only have judges sitting on a part-time basis. If you are in a regional area and require family law advice, at Armstrong Legal we have offices in Wollongong and Parramatta so we can meet with you and advise you on how your matter will run if it is to be filed in the Wollongong and Parramatta Registries, if necessary, and how we may be able to work towards a resolution for you. Please contact our office to enquire further if you feel you need such advice.
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