Attorney-General George Brandis has criticised One Nation leader Pauline Hanson for trying to take credit for a family law review, saying the Turnbull government had been planning the examination of the much-criticised system for years.
Senator Hanson said “no one within the government was interested in dealing with family law until I returned to Parliament and hounded both the Attorney-General and Prime Minister.”
But Senator Brandis said on Thursday, “it would be a stretch to say that we are having this review because Senator Hanson urged it upon us. It is something I have wanted to do for quite some time, going back to before Senator Hanson was a member of Parliament.”
The first comprehensive review of family law in nearly half a century will examine how to make the system faster and less adversarial.
The n Law Reform Commission will conduct the review in response to near-blanket criticism of the system from people who have gone through it, child protection and family violence advocates, parental rights campaigners, lawyers and former members of the judiciary.
The review was first announced in the May budget and the terms of reference were released on Wednesday.
Senator Brandis said the review was “necessary and long overdue” because “n families and their needs have significantly evolved since the 1970s” when the Family Law Act came into operation.
A coalition of groups says a royal commission is the only mechanism to adequately address the problems with the family law system.
Some of the groups that called for a royal commission include child protection organisation Bravehearts, Lone Fathers, the National Council for Single Mothers and Children, and the Luke Batty Foundation.
Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston said the family law system was a “toxic institution” and only a royal commission was “capable of overcoming the constitutional, legal and jurisdictional hurdles” that prevented its problems from being thoroughly examined.
The president of the Law Council of , Fiona McLeod, welcomed the review and said it was vital a lack of resources for the courts and legal aid was addressed.
“What we are seeing is families coming before the courts – they might have an interim hearing coming on before a judge who has 30 cases on their list with approximately 10 to 20 minutes to decide each of those cases and those outcomes can last a very long time until final orders are made. You might have a child of 6 months come before the court for a determination about who they live with and it is not until they are two or three years old until a final determination is made. That places enormous pressure on families who are already under pressure because of breakdowns, financial and emotional pressure,” Ms McLeod said.
Ms McLeod called for an immediate funding injection to help the legal system deal with its staggering case load.
She pointed to the example of a judge appointed to the Federal Circuit Court earlier this year who was immediately handed 500 cases, as well as the slow replacement rate of retiring judges.
Senator Brandis hinted there could be more funding for the overstretched courts and acknowledged that “we have put more judges into the system to deal with family law”.
The review will be conducted by family law expert Helen Rhoades???, a professor at the Melbourne Law School and a former chair of the Family Law Council.
Professor Rhoades will complete the report by the end of March 2019.
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