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  • Cost of family tribunal
  • By David Wroe
  • The Age
  • 31/03/2004 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: admin ( 100 articles in 2004 )
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Letters - An aversion to efficiency

The Family Court has tried to kill off a proposed family law tribunal aimed at keeping custody disputes out of the courtroom by telling federal cabinet the plan would be a financial loser.

The tribunal, which was a key recommendation of a recent parliamentary inquiry into child custody, would be expensive, but supporters argue that the costs would be offset by a reduced workload in the Family Court.

Via a cabinet briefing from the Attorney-General's Department, the court said there would be no such saving, angering MPs who support the idea, sources told The Age.

Cabinet has deferred further discussion about the tribunal while it consults its back bench, possibly taking the issue to a full party room meeting.

The tribunal, which would aim to make family separation hearings less adversarial and help separating parents solve their differences amicably, is understood to have the backing of Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Larry Anthony.

However, other senior ministers have doubts about the cost and fear a tribunal would add a layer of bureaucracy.

The package of changes recommended by the inquiry - which include mediation services operating from shopfronts and revised child support payments - would cost an estimated $650 million.

The soon-to-retire Family Court Chief Justice, Alastair Nicholson, has repeatedly tangled with MPs on the issue.

"They wish him well in his retirement - it can't come soon enough," one Government source said yesterday.

Justice Nicholson could not be reached for comment last night, but has argued in the past that a tribunal would not reduce the Family Court's workload because the court dealt only with the most intractable custody cases and this would not change if a tribunal were introduced.

The tribunal has widespread support on the back benches of both sides of Parliament.

Opposition Leader Mark Latham has praised the committee's recommendations in caucus meetings.

Labor MP and committee member Julia Irwin said most members favoured the child-custody overhaul.

The parliamentary committee, which reported last year, said it aimed to shift family law away from a conflict-based situation involving lawyers and judges to a mediation process involving counsellors and child psychologists.

Shopfronts would be the first stop for separating parents, who would be invited to mediation sessions, without lawyers, to draw up "parenting plans".

Failing this, parents would go before a family tribunal, which would be separate from the Family Court. According to the committee, the tribunal would be child inclusive and non-adversarial, "with simple procedures that respect the rules of natural justice".

A Labor MP and committee member, Harry Quick, said: "The fact that we have upset Nicholson and family lawyers... means we're doing pretty well."

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Letters - An aversion to efficiency

I really had to laugh when I read about the Family Court's opposition to the new, quick family law tribunal (The Age, 30/3).

My previous years working in the family law system as a solicitor convinced me that no organisation in Australia's history has been so dedicated to wasting so much time and energy.

The Family Court will use every procedural rule to bog down the simplest litigation. When, finally, in a custody battle, the child's lawyer has appeared, the counsellor has had a say, and layers of other people have been involved, the court might finally make a decision - and do what probably would have been obvious at the first hearing.

The court is too focused on the lawyers who appear before it and the professionals who make a living off it. People need quick, affordable justice - but will the elites let them have it?

David Beattie,
Mont Albert

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