The Attorney-General has recently introduced legislation to centralise administration of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Courts with the Federal Court. The Bill seeks to amend the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976, the Family Law Act 1975 and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999 to make the Federal Court of Australia, the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia one single administrative entity under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.
The Federal Government has said that if the merge takes place there will be a saving of approximately $6 million over four years.
The government says that the proposed model will “preserve the courts’ functional and judicial independence”, however, it appears that the proposal will involve the Federal Court being administratively responsible for the other two courts.
According to the Federal Circuit Court’s annual report, the Court is under pressure with an increase in filing by 3.5% for the year 2014-15. The report also showed that the number of cases concluded remained relatively static, creating significant waiting times for matters to be heard. The Family Court also had an 18% increase in appeals from the Federal Circuit Court in 2014-15 which has contributed to significant waiting times.
Both the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court have expressed concerns that the Government’s focus on “back end” operations will not fix the problem with in delays in the Courts and that the focus should be on appointing more judges to help deal with the increased workload.
The Federal Circuit Court deals with both Federal Law and Family Law and is designed to provide faster, simpler and more accessible adjudication of matters. In practice, family law matters make up approximately 90% of its workload. The Family Court deals with family law matters only.
All three courts have different practices and procedures and because of this each court’s administration is different. As a result, combining the administration of all three Courts may actually cause further delays for family law litigants.