BENDIGO needs greater access to the Federal Circuit Court, especially for family law matters, the community's legal experts say.
The existing circuits are becoming overwhelmed, with up to 50 matters on the duty list for a single week's sitting, presided by a solitary judge.
About 800 people passed through security at the Bendigo law courts on the first day of last month's circuit.
Bendigo Law Association president Juliana Smith said the queue could be seen stretching from Court Six and up around the street.
It's a visual representation of how much the issues the court deals with affect people in the community.
And as the number of family law matters before the court rises, and cases become increasingly complex, the wait for a resolution can be lengthy.
Family law was central to discussions representatives of the legal community in Bendigo had with Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters this week.
ARC Justice executive officer Hayley Mansfield said the politicians sought to get locals views on the family law system and key opportunities and challenges facing in our region.
"A key issue that was discussed was the delay in accessing courts and mediation and how these are compounded in a regional location," Ms Mansfield said.
The Federal Circuit Court sits four times a year in Bendigo and other major regional towns.
"The circuit court on day one is really a triage system," Ms Smith said.
That's when the court determines what can be dealt with in the course of the week.
What can't be heard or resolved during that circuit might be adjourned off to the next opportunity, which could be the next circuit.
"We spoke about how a modern family law system must provide avenues for timely resolution," Ms Mansfield said.
"Without timely access to justice, this can result in a situation escalating and cause a person to interact with other jurisdictions."
Child protection and family violence matters were often the result, Ms Mansfield said.
Family law specialist Marika McMahon, of O'Farrell Robertson McMahon Lawyers, said one way to ease the pressure on the circuit could be to double the sitting time from one week to two.
"If there is more time the judge is here, there is so much more of a chance of cases being heard and finalised in that circuit," Ms McMahon said.
She said the existing arrangement could be 'slow and difficult', with little time for matters to be resolved and delays until the matter could next be heard.
Ms Smith said other options discussed during the round table included having more than one judge sit on circuits, or having more circuits.
She said the judge's workload during each circuit was 'huge'.
"They do a wonderful job," Ms Smith said.
She said there was acknowledgement during the roundtable that the family law system needed more resources as demands increased and matters became more complex.
Ms McMahon said the Australian Law Reform Commission was reviewing the system - a process that started in 2017, at the behest of the federal government.
The report is due to be delivered to the Attorney-General at the end of this month.
In the meantime, the government has introduced legislation that would effectively abolish the Family Court.
The bill has passed through the House of Representatives and is now before the Senate.
If it passes into legislation, the country's most complex family law matters could be heard in less specialised environments.
Ms McMahon said Mr Dreyfus had also expressed interest in learning more about how the system could improve opportunities for early intervention.
Ms Smith said the meeting had been positive, with a focus on how to improve the issues the legal community was encountering with the system.
The barriers to legal representation was another of the key issues raised.
"We spoke about how many people are unable to access legal support to access the family law system," Ms Mansfield said.
"Family law is one of our community's highest areas of unmet legal need.
"Our services provide fee-free legal advice to people needing to access the family law system, but due to the complex and intensive nature of family law matters we are only able to provide ongoing representation in rare circumstances due to our lack of resources.
"This lack of capacity to pay for private lawyers or to access free legal advice means many people are left to navigate a complex process unrepresented, which is not an equitable process."
Mr Dreyfus said more resources needed to be put into legal assistance services to meet the high level of unmet legal need in Australia.
He said people might find themselves unable to access fee-free legal assistance services, but also couldn't afford to engage private legal services.
"What that means is that very many people who are appearing in the Federal Circuit Court here in family law matters are simply unrepresented, and that's a problem."
He said the solution was a 'pretty simple equation' - provide larger levels of funding to the legal assistance sector.
Mr Dreyfus expected a funding boost would increase the number of solicitors available.
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