Overworked and Understaffed? Delays in the Family Court
The Chief Justice of the Family Court Diana Bryant AO has said what many people who have been in contact with family law say: the system is under resourced.
There is a legal maxim that states ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’. What needs to be determined, however, is what level of delay results in justice being denied and how much delay is acceptable. In the article cited below, Chief Justice Bryant states that the court experiences delays of up to three years from filing to trial. On average, however, the delay is around 17 months (including matters settled by consent orders). That is still, however, a year and a half of a family, many with children involved, going through a complex and stressful process while not knowing what the Court will decide and not being able to move on with their lives.
Former NSW Chief Justice James Spigelman has previously said that delays of two years are acceptable in the Supreme Court of NSW. If delays of this length are acceptable, should we not be applauding the Family Court system for being able to provide for markedly shorter turn-arounds rather than saying it needs to be even quicker?
The difference between these examples is what is at stake. While cases in the Supreme Court are undoubtedly important, they are generally commercial in nature and don’t have the same impact on people’s lives that Family Court cases do. Chief Justice Bryant alludes to this, saying that by not increasing funding, ‘the Government doesn’t understand the effect this is having on families’. While usually average delays should be what we benchmark off, because of the intimate impact family law has on people’s lives, we should consider the few instances of extended delays as unacceptable. This shows that not all legal matters can be viewed under a broad umbrella and thought about in the same way.
It is unsurprising that Chief Justice Bryant chose to raise this issue before the release of the Federal budget, possibly as an ultimately successful last minute attempt to lobby the Government for funding. Chief Justice Bryant’s statements highlight the recognition from within the system that there needs to be a significant increase in funding for the Family Court.
The information posted on this blog represents our opinion and should not be taken as legal advice.