As of 1 January 2019, a new Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA) will be established by way of amalgamating the current Federal Circuit Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia. The restructure is intended to create “a single federal point of entry for all Australian family law matters”, to be complimented by streamlined court rules, procedures, forms, etc.
Features of the new FCFCA:
- The new FCFCA will have two divisions:
o Division 1: Dealing only with family law matters (akin to the Family Court)
o Division 2: Dealing with both family law and general family law matters (akin to the Federal Circuit Court)
- The FCFCA will maintain existing court rules in the beginning, with transitional arrangements to be put in place in the interim until new court rules are implemented
- The FCFCA will be presided by one Chief Justice with the support of one Deputy Chief Justice, both with a dual commission to both divisions; enabling the FCFCA to operate under a common case management process
- The Judges of the Courts will remain the same
The change will effectively see the dissolution of the Family Court of Australia as we currently know it, and a further removal of a substantial part of the appellate jurisdiction. In lieu, a new Family Law Appeal Division (FLAD) will be established in the Federal Court of Australia to hear all appeals in family law matters from the FCFCA.
Attorney-General Christian Porter announced that the structural change “will help Australian families resolve their disputes faster by improving the efficiency of the existing split family law system, reducing the backlog of matters before the family law courts, and driving faster, cheaper, and more consistent dispute resolution.”
He noted that, “it is estimated that structural reforms will improve the efficiency of the federal family law system by up to a third, with the potential in time to allow up to an extra 8, 000 cases to be resolved each and every year.”
A key consideration in enacting the structural reforms according to the Attorney-General is the “high number of cases transferred between the two existing courts.”
However legal professionals are questioning whether the government has acted pre-emptively, considering the Australian Law Reform Commission is yet to hand down its recommendations from the review into the family law system. The Attorney-General rebutted this concern by assuring that “any ALRC recommendations implemented by the government in the future will ultimately be enhanced in impact with a new, more efficient court structure already in place.”
Others are questioning whether this proposal actually addresses or solves the problem of having a ‘two-layered’ court system exercising almost the same family law jurisdiction, and whether in fact less cases will be moved between the two divisions of the court.
Legislation will be introduced in the spring Parliamentary sittings to establish the new Court. Watch this space.