The Law Council of Australia has praised the Senate’s move for a more considered consultation on the overhaul of the family court system.
The Senate on Tuesday directed the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee to conduct public hearings into the two merger bills after the close of submissions on 23 November and before 15 April 2019.
The motion introduced by Sen. Rex Patrick came after a motion last week to extend the submission deadline, which initially only provided about three weeks for submissions on the two pending court merger bills to be made. The Law Council earlier slammed the short timeframe as “insufficient and extremely worrying.”
If passed, the bills will merge the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia into a new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. The change would be the most significant to the country’s courts system since 1975.
“Changes of this magnitude must not be rushed through the Parliament without proper scrutiny and debate,” said Law Council President Morry Bailes. “Further, the government’s original intention to hear evidence prior to the close of submissions is clearly not as valuable as hearing evidence after the submission period.
“The Law Council commends the Senate for ensuring that public hearings are held following the close of submissions, and that ample time and space is allocated for them,” Bailes said. “The committee needs to not just hear from those who work in and around the system, but the mums and dads who have unfortunately been caught up in it. Australia’s family court system is under immense pressure, but there is no practical reason to push this reform through parliament this year. We must get it right, not do it quick.”
The motion gives the government the opportunity to consider the Australian Law Reform Commission Review of the Family Law System, which will be delivered to government on 31 March 2019.
“We again submit that it is vital the ALRC’s detailed findings are considered before the Senate committee reports and the bills inevitably go to a vote,” Bailes said.
The Law Council president also noted that the bills provide no extra funding for the chronically under-resourced court system or associated support services.