Long-overdue funding for Australia’s family law system could prove a “watershed moment” for the family legal sector.
That’s according to Chief Justice of the Family Court, Diana Bryant AO, who delivered the keynote address on Friday for Talking Justice – a legal forum held in Bendigo over the weekend.
Commenting on the increased funding, and indeed interest, in the family law sphere from the federal government as part of their 2017/18 budget, Chief Justice Bryant said: “It is pleasing to see the government has taken an interest in family law at last.”
“I’ve been bemoaning the lack of attention to delivering changes for family law for a long time.”
As part of the federal government’s budget, $80 million was allocated to frontline family law and family violence services.
The funding includes; $12.7 million to establish Parenting Management Hearings, $10.7 million for additional family consultants to deal with family law cases; $3.4 million for additional domestic violence units; and $55.7 million boost to Community Legal Centres and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services.
Chief Justice Bryant was skeptical of the pilot program of the parenting management hearings, which Ms Bryant said were in effect a tribunal, with a panel of decision makers.
“Why do we need a tribunal rather than a judge?,” she said.
“A tribunal is a very different creature indeed from a judge hearing out as a less adversarial way.”
“One of the hallmarks of our prison system is transparency, and part of that comes with open courts so that anyone can attend and listen to a hearing. Will there be an equally open hearing with a tribunal?”
On the impact of social media on family law cases, Chief Justice Bryant said, in recent times, people were increasingly putting lots of material about their family law matter on social media.
“This is a breach of the family law act, which is obviously a concern,” she said.
Chief Justice Bryant said protecting the anonymity of children involved in the family law matters was of utmost importance, while urging those involved in cases to take advice from legal professionals, not dubious online forums.
“The internet is changing our culture and our legal culture will likely be increasingly affected by it,” she said.