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The Law Council of Australia has asked for increased resources to the family law system in the wake of “alarming” delays including with cases that are more than two years old.

The Productivity Commission’s annual Report on Government Services highlighted a 34 per cent increase in the backlog of cases in the Family Court between 2012/13 and 2018/19. In the same time period, the backlog in the Federal Circuit Court rose by 63 per cent. 

Law Council President Pauline Wright said the delays have now reached an alarming level. 

“Justice delayed is justice denied, particularly when some of these cases involve some of the most vulnerable in our community and allegations of domestic violence. An urgent injection of funds into the family law system is required,” Wright said. 

“We need a stand-alone, specialist court which understands the complexities involved in family matters. Any merger will diminish this vast expertise and lead to worse outcomes for parents and children across Australia.

“We have been warning for years that the system is under strain and that backlogs are increasing. More funding should not be made contingent upon the courts’ merger going ahead. Our family law courts are overwhelmed and in urgent need of additional funding. 

“The stress and pain that families go through because of these delays is unthinkable. Many of these cases are of course complex and lengthy but we should not be seeing such a jump in delays over a period of just 12 months.” 

The Productivity Commission found an increase of 44 per cent over the past year in the number of non-appeal family court matters that are more than two years old. 

Family Court and Federal Court Chief Justice Will Alstergren has introduced new measures to attempt to clear the court’s backlog, including increasing the role of registrars in the dispute resolution process and harmonising the Family Law and Federal Circuit Court rules. 

“The delays and backlogs are unacceptable,” Wright said.

“Fund these courts appropriately and we will see delays and backlogs decrease. We can take away the enormous burden being placed on too many families and the relatively small number of judges on whom this huge workload falls.”