This week, Senator Rex Patrick brokered a deal for SA to receive greater resources for it's courts and legal services in return for his support for the Family Court merger bill. This bill was opposed by 155 stakeholders in the family law system including 13 retired judges. However, Senator Patrick’s support was conditional on an important amendment to the bill, that Division 1 of the “Federal Circuit Court and Family Court” have no less than 25 justices at any time.
Whilst this amendment ensures the specialist knowledge of Division 1 (currently the Family Court) is preserved, there remains concern about a merger. Particularly that it will increase cost, delay and stress. Presently, judges in the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court have over 300 cases in their list, some up to 600 cases. Parties face delays of 18 months or more to reach a conclusion of their case. It’s unlikely the merger will alleviate these pressures but it can’t be denied that the amendment to retain 25 justices to Division 1 addresses some of the concern in relation to being able to handle the more complex family law matters.