Judge shortage forces Wollongong family to have matter heard in Brisbane court

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Lawyers are criticising the family court funding after a judge shortage led to a Wollongong family locked in a custody and property dispute being allocated a hearing date in Brisbane.

Attorney-General George Brandis is yet to fill two vacant positions on the Federal Circuit Court.

The family’s lawyer Hayley Williams told the ABC that her client, who is shocked and upset by the unusual situation, will incur further costs in having to have the matter heard in Brisbane.

“We can always instruct an agent in Brisbane but the lawyers in Brisbane are quite expensive and also they don't have the same knowledge and history as we do having carriage of the matter for years and years. It's going to be a very expensive exercise for our client,” Williams said.

“Court dates should be allocated in a local area, if a court is in Wollongong then a date should be allocated in that area.”

Solicitors and family law advocates are calling for additional funding and more judges to clear a backlog in cases, saying that children are being put at risk by the failure of the government to quickly appoint more judges.

“I would like to implore the government to seriously consider the issue of funding the family courts, this is extremely important, I just can't stress that enough,” said Williams.

“We've had recent matters, urgent matters being flicked to registries, not only in Sydney but also Brisbane, so wherever a judge is able to hear a matter, that is where we are getting allocated dates.”

Families in the Wollongong circuit court were already being given court dates two years away due to the shortage and a Brisbane hearing was the earliest date any judge could hear the matter.

A spokesperson for Brandis said the appointment of two judges is being prioritised.

“The appointment of a judge to a federal court is an important decision to which the Government gives careful consideration," the spokesperson said.

“Before making a recommendation to the government and ultimately, the Governor-General in Executive Council, the Attorney-General has regard to a broad range of issues, including the expertise and background of potential candidates as well as consultation with relevant persons.

“While this careful consideration takes time, it ensures that all judicial appointments are based on merit.”