The family law system currently operates as two, parallel Courts – the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court – each with its own set of Rules, forms, procedures and practice directions. However, the Federal Government has recently announced plans to merge the two Courts, effective 1 January 2019.
The new Court – to be named the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia – will be divided into Division 1 (constituted by current Family Court Judges) and Division 2 (constituted by current Federal Circuit Court Judges).
As part of the reform, all appeals from the new Court will be heard by a new division within the Federal Court.
The Attorney General, Christian Porter, said that 4 million dollars has been allocated to the reforms, which will include “… the redesign of a single set of Rules, forms, procedures and practice directions which are far superior to what we have at the moment, less procedural and mean that individuals in the Court system will spend less time in the system and less money on legal fees…”
Mr Porter stated that the reforms will clear a backlog of cases in the current system and will also mean that matters will no longer be transferred between Courts and consequently litigants will not be put to the additional delays and costs associated with that process.
However, the proposed reforms have seen a backlash from the legal profession. Family lawyers – many of whom say that the current backlog of cases is a result of inadequate replacement of retiring Judges – want appeals to be determined by Judges who specialise in family law. Family Court Appeal Judges may launch a constitutional challenge to the court restructure, with one Appeal Court Judge saying he would challenge “any legislative attempt to remove me as a judge exercising the appellate jurisdiction under the (Family Law) Act.”