Judgment day for Newcastle’s family court

IT IS an extraordinary day when a retired senior judge openly and very publicly criticises a senior member of a government.

Not unprecedented, but worth paying attention to, nevertheless.

So we should take note of what retired former Newcastle Federal Circuit Court judge Giles Coakes hadto say about federal Attorney-General George Brandis and appointments to the Newcastle court that hears family law cases.

Mr Coakes blasted Senator Brandis for the length of time it has taken to replace two judges in the past two years and the consequences on the court’s two remaining judges.

Certainly figures released by Senator Brandis’ office to Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon are extremely concerning. While the national average caseload for comparable courts is 376, Newcastle’s Federal Circuit Court has dealt with 770 matters this financial year.

The large number of cases has pushed the time families have to wait for matters to go to trial out to 19 months, which is an extraordinary delay given only the most serious family law matters end up in court.

It is clear how serious this matter has become, when Mr Coakes and Hunter Valley Family Law Practitionerspresident Chris White agreed to speak to the media with Ms Claydon.

Mr White’s example of the direct impact of these delayed decisions on Hunter families was chilling.

The case of afather with drug abuse and mental health problems, who took his child to Queensland despite little contact with the child up to that point, was given an urgent hearing date –but that was two months later.

Serious domestic violence cases, where children as well as adults are at risk, are similarly placed in a queue while the Federal Government is yet to replace a judge who left in February for a special inquiry.

It is hard not to see this as another example of the mixed messages from governments on domestic violence and support for families.

It is unfortunate given Senator Brandis’ very positive moves on domestic violence announced in the Budget -a major review of the Family Law Act and proposed amendments to the Actto ensure domestic violence victims cannot be cross-examined by alleged perpetrators who represent themselves in court.

Issue: 38,533.