Open Letter – Concerns about proposed Family Court merger

11 November 2019

Dear Attorney-General,

We, the undersigned, are writing to you about the Government’s proposal to merge the Family Court of
Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia into a single generalised court: the Federal Circuit and
Family Court of Australia.

Any reform should strengthen a system, not lead to the diminution of specialisation. If the Government’s
proposed reforms proceed, we will lose a stand-alone specialist superior family court.

In acknowledging the need to prioritise the safety of children and adult victims-survivors of family violence
in the family law system, government commissioned inquiry after inquiry has recommended increasing
specialisation in both family law and family violence, including the recent Australian Law Reform
Commission inquiry into the family law system.1 We believe this should be a Government priority.

We understand and support having a single entry point to the family courts and common rules so the
family law system is easier for families to navigate. We understand this is a key reason why the
Government is seeking to reform the family courts.

However, there are different ways this can be achieved. And this can be done without abandoning the
benefits otherwise available to children and families from a properly resourced and specialised court
system.

The Family Court of Australia has said “common rules, forms and complementary case management
systems” … “can be achieved without legislative amendment”.2 The Federal Circuit Court of Australia has
acknowledged the importance of a single point of entry and common case management system “whether
or not the enabling legislative framework is in place”.3

Similarly, there are different models for reforming the family courts other than the model proposed by the
Government.

The New South Wales Bar Association has proposed keeping the stand-alone specialist superior family
court.4 Family Court Judges would be in Division 1 of the Family Court of Australia. Federal Circuit Court
judges who are hearing family law matters would move across to Division 2 of the Family Court of Australia.

In this way, federal judges hearing only family law matters would be in a single specialist family court
offering judicial, social science and other services.

We believe an increase in specialisation in family law and family violence will increase the safety of children
and adult victims-survivors of family violence. This is particularly the case for groups that are
disproportionately impacted in the family law and family violence systems, including Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people. The need for increased specialisation of courts to improve decisions and outcomes
for families is supported by the evidence of many inquiries.

We advocate for further discussion of the different options.

We prefer a model that retains a stand-alone specialist superior family court and increases family law and
family violence specialisation, such as the proposal by the New South Wales Bar Association. The safety of
children and adult victims-survivors of family violence requires increased specialisation. The proposed
merger serves only to undermine that important need.

While we support just, quick and cheap access to justice and there is a role for increasing efficiencies within
our court systems, this must not come at the cost of the safety of children and adult victims-survivors of
family violence. These two important imperatives are not mutually exclusive, and one ought not be
abandoned at the expense of the other.

Safety must come first in family law.

We would welcome further consultations on alternative models of structural, holistic reform to benefit
children, families and victims-survivors of family violence.

Action can also be taken now to further increase family violence specialisation in the family law system
through:
• Introducing effective ongoing court-based family violence risk assessment practices
• Early determination of family violence, and
• Increasing family violence competency of all professionals in the family law system

Yours faithfully,

List of organisations
This letter has been prepared by a number of organisations. For further information contact Sophie Quinn or Amber Russell on ph: 08 8952 4055.

Dr Merrindahl Andrew, Program Manager, Australian Women Against Violence Alliance
Nassim Arrage, Chief Executive Officer, Community Legal Centres Australia
Nerita Waight, Co-Chair, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services
Arthur Moses SC, President, Law Council of Australia
Sophie Quinn & Amber Russell, Co-convenors, Women’s Legal Services Australia
Tara Ward, Executive Director, Animal Defenders Office
Mark Patrick, Managing Principal Solicitor, Australian Centre for Disability Law
Kerry Weste, President, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
Rachael Field, Professor of Law, Bond Law Faculty
Tully McIntyre, Facilitator, Central Australian Family Violence and Sexual Assault Network
Janet Taylor, Managing Principal Solicitor, Central Australian Women’s Legal Service
Susie Smith, Co-chair, Coalition of Women’s Domestic Violence Services of South Australia
Tim Leach, Executive Director, Community Legal Centres NSW
Jenny Davidson, Chief Executive Officer, Council of Single Mothers and their Children
Arlia Fleming, Managing Principal Solicitor, Elizabeth Evatt Community Legal Centre
Joanne Yates, Chief Executive Officer, Domestic Violence NSW (DVNSW)
Alison Macdonald, Chief Executive Office (Acting), Domestic Violence Victoria
Zoe Rathus AM, Senior Lecturer, Griffith Law School
Samantha Jeffries, Senior Lecturer, School of Criminology & Criminal Justice, Griffith University
Sarah Rodgers, Manager & Principal Lawyer, Hume Riverina Community Legal Service
Bronwyn Ambrogetti, Managing Solicitor, Hunter Community Legal Centre
Ali Mojtahedi, Principal Solicitor, Immigration Advice and Rights Centre
Janene Cootes, Executive Officer, Intellectual Disability Rights Service
Emma Golledge, Director, Kingsford Legal Centre
Robert Pelletier, Executive Officer, Macarthur Legal Centre
Belinda Fehlberg, Professor of Law, Melbourne Law School
Maha Abdo OAM, Chief Executive Officer, Muslim Women Association
Christine Ross, Acting CEO, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance
Lizette Twisleton, Interim Director Practice and Programs, No to Violence
Anne Lewis, Director, North Queensland Women’s Legal Service
Jeff Smith, Chief Executive Officer, People with Disability Australia
Jane Titterington, Principal Solicitor, Mid North Coast Community Legal Centre
Marie Segrave, Associate Professor, Monash University
Narrandera Domestic Violence Committee
Tim Game SC, President, New South Wales Bar Association
Ken Beilby, Principal Solicitor, Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre
Karen Willis, Executive Officer, Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia
Sarah Dale, Centre Director & Principal Solicitor, Refugee Advice & Casework Service
Lindy Edwards, Co-ordinator, Sera’s Women’s Shelter, Queensland
Yvette Vignando, Chief Executive Officer, South West Sydney Legal Centre
Justine O’Reilly, Principal Solicitor, Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre
Vicki Johnston, Manager, The Deli Women & Children’s Centre
Kirstin, Co-ordinator, Warrawee Women’s Shelter
Katherine Boyle, Executive Director, Welfare Rights Centre
Louise Coady, Principal Solicitor, Western Sydney Community Legal Centre Limited
Julie Oberin, National Chairperson, WESNET
Patrick O’Callaghan, Principal Solicitor, Western NSW Community Legal Centre
Christine Robinson, Coordinator, Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre
Kedy Kristal, Policy Officer, Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services WA
Denele Crozier AM, Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Health NSW
Claudia Maclean, Principal Solicitor, Women’s Legal Centre (ACT & Region)
Janet Loughman, Principal Solicitor, Women’s Legal Service NSW
Angela Lynch AM, Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Legal Service Qld
Zita Ngor, Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Legal Service SA
Yvette Cehtel, Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Legal Service Tasmania
Helen Matthews, Director – Legal & Policy, Women’s Legal Service Victoria
Milenka Vasekova, Program Manager, Migrant Women’s Support Program, Women Safety Services SA
Tracey Booth, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney
Miranda Kaye, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney
Dr Jane Wangmann, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney
Nerita Waight, Chief Executive Officer, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service
Tulika Saxena, Gender and Domestic Violence Specialist, YWCA Canberra


1 ALRC, Family Law for the Future: An inquiry into the Family Law System, 2019, Recommendation 51; Standing Committee on Social
and Legal Affairs, A better family law system to support and protect those affected by family violence, 2017, Recommendations 27-
28; Family Law Council, Improving the Families with Complex Needs and the Intersection of the Family Law and Child Protection
Systems, 2016, Recommendations 11-12, 15(1); Queensland Special Taskforce in Domestic and Family Violence, Not Now, Not Ever,
2015, Recommendations 104 – 106, 109-110; Family Law Council, Improving the Family Law System for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Clients, 2012, Recommendations 2.2, 8,2; Family Law Council, Improving the Family Law System for Clients from Culturally
and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds, 2012, Recommendations 2.2, 6.1, 6.3; ALRC ad NSWLRC, Family Violence – A National Legal
Response, 2010, Recommendations 16.9, 21.3, 22.5. 26.3, 31.1-31.5, 32.4.
2 Family Court of Australia, Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry into the Federal Circuit and
Family Court of Australia Bill 2018 and Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional
Provisions) Bill 2018, 14 December 2018, p1.
3 Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry into the Federal
Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2018 and Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and
Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018, 11 December 2018, p3
4 New South Wales Bar Association, A Matter of Public Importance: Time for a Family Court of Australia 2.0, July 2018 accessed at:
https://nswbar.asn.au/docs/mediareleasedocs/Family_Court_MR2.pdf

20 years of linking the community with the law through free legal assistance

Increased complexity and multiple problems are becoming the norm for people experiencing legal issues, according to the only community legal service on the Border. Hume Riverina Community Legal Service Manager & Principal Lawyer Sarah Rodgers told the audience at the annual Report to the Community on 7 November.

“We continue to strive to direct our resources to the most vulnerable people and not just give a single advice for those people but walk alongside them through the casework process,” Ms Rodgers said. “More than half our work is directed to supporting people who are affected by family violence including through duty lawyer services, advice and casework assistance with not only intervention orders but also the flow-on legal issues such as family law, debts, fines, consumer law and victims of crime.”

Victorian Cross Border Commissioner Luke Wilson was special guest speaker and spoke about causes behind some of the issues that people experience on a regular basis. These include a need for cross-border impacts to be factored into Government and local-level planning, and funding guidelines recognising the unique circumstances in border regions.

Mr Wilson highlighted issues with P and L plate drivers, TAFE/ VET access, RSA certification and Trade licensing as being brought to his office’s attention. Mr Wilson encouraged people to consider solutions to the problems they faced in working and living on the Border, and to connect with his office and local MPs to discuss how they could be addressed.

HRCLS Principal Lawyer Sarah Rodgers, Allison Bruce, Karen Bowley, Karen Keegan and UMFC CEO Luke Rumbold celebrate the legal service’s 20th Birthday.

HRCLS also celebrated its 20th Birthday with a panel including former principal lawyers Karen Bowley and Karen Keegan, as well as current Albury & District Law Society president Allison Bruce, who started with the service in 1999 as a paralegal assistant.

Launched on 28 July 1999 by the Federal Attorney General Daryl Williams, HRCLS was known as the Albury Wodonga Community Legal Service before a name change via a community competition in 2009.

Ms Rodgers said the service had grown from four staff to 16, helped in more than 4800 cases and had been fortunate to have significant assistance from private lawyers who volunteered their time to help people needing legal advice.

“In 20 years, we have given more than 29,000 advice sessions and of those, over 5600 advice sessions were provided by our volunteers,” she said.

2018-19 HRCLS highlights

HRCLS Annual Report 2018-19

HRCLS 2018-19 Snapshot

20th Birthday panel

Working together for change a win for Victorian renters

Thanks to Tenants Victoria for their tireless advocacy to get a better deal for renters in Victoria. Changes to the Residential Tenancies Act due to this strong advocacy will have a positive impact for thousands of people, who will now be treated fairer when they rent a place to call home. We were proud to join Tenants Victoria in their fight to stand up for regional Victorians, and thank them for their letter to acknowledge our support.

Tenants Victoria_Thanks for your support HRCLS

Previous blogs