CHANGES TO THE FAMILY COURT? 

Dear Editor,

In recent press there has been substantial criticism of the Family Court.  The criticism is not unexpected.  Prior to the introduction of the Family Courts Act in the early 70’s, NSW had the Maintenance Act and regularly solicitors would attend what was then Petty Sessions, now Local Court, representing both parties whilst presenting a speedy and acceptable settlement.  Since the change the legal profession found themselves unable/unwilling to represent both parties thereby ensuring a double dip into family assets, compounded when instructing a barrister.

Which raises a further problem.  One of the parties introducing the legislation was reported as saying that in the event of experiencing a marriage breakdown he would expect the proceedings presided by no less than a supreme court judge.  This provision was introduced into the act and I believe it to be a major failing and an instrumental reason for the above criticism.  Those matters under the Maintenance Act brought before a magistrate who was seen by some as a jumped-up clerk with a law degree, which was true, but clerks with a suitably high work ethic.

For years the government had been unable to attract members of the legal profession to the position of magistrate for various reasons and had to rely on attracting those clerks within the lower courts system to accept such appointment.  These clerks staffed courts in a large number of towns throughout the State and to save government funds were expected to perform work for various departments and instrumentalities, both state and federal, without training or additional staff.  The government has apparently discontinued this practice for appointing magistrates, whom I consider ‘old style’ magistrates.  The first of the ‘new style’ magistrates I encountered heard four matters leaving a very large list for an unhappy team of solicitors, police and court staff to find suitable adjournment dates.  When questioned about his performance he is reputed to have replied that he did not accept the appointment to slave.

The ‘old style’ magistrate would never allow cases to drag on for days, let alone years, and caseloads were to be avoided let alone allowed to approach the present levels experienced in the Family Court.  Whilst running Supreme court & District court registries it became obvious that the judiciary were themselves unable/unwilling to reduce the accepted time wasting practices within their courts.

The court system within NSW would be greatly improved if only the government, through the auspices of the Attorney General, found the necessary determination to ensure those appointed to all levels of the judiciary were trained and encouraged to avoid time wasting practices.  Perhaps the Federal government should reconsider the appropriateness of judicial appointments to the Family court at Supreme court level.

Daryl Field

Wang Wauk NSW

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