JUDGMENT delays in Australia’s cash-strapped family court system have blown out further as judges move to tackle the rising number of cases involving family violence in Australia.
With the Abbott Government foreshadowing $30 million in cuts to the family courts over the next four years, the outlook remains bleak for those families waiting for an outcome.
According to the latest annual reports on the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court, applications involving family violence have soared to 15 per cent to 403 in the past year.
Family Court of Australia Chief Justice Diana Bryant believes the five per cent jump in applications for final orders involving a family violence notice is due to its definition being widened in last year’s changes to the Family Law Act.
Reports of abuse and violence had been in steady decline in the four years leading up to the reforms.
But new 28-day deadlines for dealing with the matters have had “significant impact” on court resources.
“The requirement of the court to find further efficiencies means that we must continue to look for ways to reduce costs, despite many years of implementing numbers savings initiatives,” Justice Bryant said.
“Considering that the courts have undergone a relentless number of reviews all seeking to identify ways to reduce costs, the reality is that there are very limited reductions to be made without having a serious impact on service delivery, particularly given that more than half of the Family Court’s costs are fixed such as salaries for judicial officers and property expenses.”
A total of $12.2 million in wages was shared among the 30 judges of the Family Court in the last financial year, according to the report.
Justice Bryant said the role of the court was being reduced to a “smaller court which manages all appeals and deals with the most complex famil law cases”.
While the court boasts a high clearance rate for cases, there remains a significant number of cases still awaiting judgment after two years.
Figures showed 11 per cent of litigants still had no judgment after a two-year wait, with 49 per cent of cases waiting for more than three months.
The court met only three out of seven KPIs, failing to deliver on promised final and interim order targets.
A total of 3,067 final orders and 3,419 interim orders were handed down.
The majority of cases settled before final judgment, with 14.6 per cent needed a judgment.
Property disputes were the most common – a total of 52 per cent of all cases requiring a ruling.
Meanwhile, the number of appeals fell 13 per cent to 326, with a slight increase in males (60 per cent) over females (37 per cent) seeking to overturn decisions.
The caseload is in stark contrast to the “workhorse” Federal Circuit Court, which litigated 89,599 cases.
The work was shared between 64 judges, including 23 females and 41 males.
They met two of performance goals, with less than one per cent of matters litigated being subject to complaint (0.19 per cent) and 60 per cent resolved before trial.
But the court fell short of a deadline of six months in 90 per cent of cases being finalised, managing only an 83 per cent completion rate.
A total of 172 complaints were also lodged, including 81 for late judgments.