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Family Court Abolished by Federal Government

With everything else going on, you can be forgiven for not knowing that, very quietly, the federal government abolished the Family Court last week.

While it was technically merged with the Federal Circuit Court, many observers are saying this will effectively diminish the capacity of both bodies, rendering them highly ineffective. Not only that, but the new structure will mean judges in the court will hear cases involving a much broader range of areas. These will include everything from immigration to small business to its newly absorbed family law work.

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Anyone who has had to deal with the Family Court knows that the issues heard there are unlike those of any other judicial body, which is why it required its own body to handle its complexities. Chief among these complexities is family violence and the ways it must be dealt with.

In an open letter signed by 156 stakeholders in the Australian Family Law system, experts warn against "the diminution of specialisation" that will arise from the merger. They go on to say:

We believe an increase in specialisation in family law and family violence will increase the safety of children and adult victims-survivors of family violence. This is particularly the case for groups that are disproportionately impacted in the family law and family violence systems, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The need for increased specialisation of courts to improve decisions and outcomes for families is supported by the evidence of many inquiries.

The government, on the other hand, cites analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers which states the change will lead to greater efficiency and will result in 8000 additional cases a year being heard. No mention is made in said analysis of the quality of outcomes or protection for families and children.

As the open letter says: "Safety must come first in family law."

The legislation for the merger was passed in the Upper House with support from Pauline Hanson, who is a vocal opponent of the Family Court. She has long held a grudge against the system, and indeed was integral in establishing the Review which has led to the overhaul.

Her main gripe appears to be the false claim that the system is biased against fathers and regularly denies them contact with their children. This has been found to happen in only 3% of all court orders. Doubling down, she adds that mothers are incentivised to lie about family violence in order to reach desires outcomes, which is obviously baseless.

An independent Review of the Family Court system by the Australian Law Reform Commission was concluded in April of last year. The Government has so far implemented none of its 93 findings, one of which was to abolish the court but give its powers to the states in order to prevent children slipping through the cracks.

Pauline Hanson's voice, blaming victims and crying wolf, must have been louder.

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