Judge’s damning verdict on family court reform
THE Family Court has slammed "greatly troublesome'' plans to let social workers sort out custody battles.
In a rare public panning, Family Court Chief Justice John Pascoe has declared it a "fallacy'' that social workers can manage complex disputes involving family violence and child abuse.
The Federal Government will spend $12.7 million this year to trial "parent management hearings'', with panels of psychologists, social workers and family law specialists to help warring parents resolve custody issues without lawyers.
But Chief Justice John Pascoe said allegations of family violence, decisions about where a child should live, and the welfare of children require "forensic determination'' by experienced judges.
"The Bill allows for panel members to comprise persons who are not legally trained, including psychologists and social workers,'' he has told the Senate inquiry into the Government's family law amendments.
"With respect, those panel members will not have the knowledge or the expertise to determine these matters in the way that is consistent with established jurisprudence.
"Whereas the Courts have highly experienced judicial officers determining these complex matters, the members of the panel may not have the appropriate qualifications and experience to decide such complex issues.''
Chief Justice Pascoe said the panels should only be able to hear cases referred by the Family Court, with the consent of both parents.
He said it was "greatly troublesome'' that a panel's decision would be treated the same as final court orders.
Under the Government reforms, the panels cannot hear cases involving child sexual abuse.
Chief Justice Pascoe said this was "clearly appropriate (but) highlights the fallacy of allowing the Panel to hear matters where there are allegations of family violence''.
"Allegations of sexual abuse and family violence are often so intertwined that it is difficult to see how they can be separated out by the Panel,'' he said.
The Law Council of Australia has also attacked the Government's decision to spend $12.7 million on "what amounts to an untested social experiment''.
Attorney-General Christian Porter yesterday said some family law disputes were taking "too long'' to resolve in court - but ruled out appointing extra judges to clear the backlog.
"My initial focus will be getting better results for the taxpayer with improved processes and administration and structures without using more taxpayer money,'' he said.
Nearly a third of cases before the Family Court have dragged on for more than a year and 14 per cent longer than two years.
The Federal Circuit Court, which hears simpler divorce and property disputes, was clogged with 85,577 new cases last financial year while the Family Court dealt with 20,741 new disputes.