Albury is among the regional areas disadvantaged by the “under siege” family law system, says NSW Woman Lawyer of the Year Kylie Beckhouse.
Ms Beckhouse addressed a Women in Law breakfast hosted by Hume Riverina Community Legal Service this morning at the Hovell Tree Inn.
She outlined delays experienced through the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, which sits in Albury for a week every 10 weeks.
“The local court in Albury and in other regional centres would prefer not to deal with family court matters; I understand they’re too busy, they’re not funded to do the work, so people wait for the circuit to arrive,” she said.
“The circuit arrives from Melbourne and there are at least 45 matters.
“If the final hearing is not finalised but starts, you’ll need to wait for the next circuit, in another eight to 10 weeks.
“Apart from having to take days off work to attend court, people who can afford representation will have to pay each time for their lawyers to be there, and the option to take it to Melbourne is a costly process.
“In the age of technological advancement … in Albury there is no management of cases outside of circuit times.”
The director of family law at Legal Aid NSW said a permanent judicial officer for Albury and other regional areas, increased funding and a re-write of the Family Law Act to reflect the modern and complex makeup of families could all improve the system.
“I don’t want to be seen to blame the judges, because they’re extremely hardworking people, they make good and fair decisions,” she said.
“But they’re completely overworked and under-resourced, and generally decisions made about how a circuit might operate or how court services are going to be delivered are based on the need of their and the courts’ limited time.”
Ms Beckhouse also acknowledged the progress made through various changes, including dispute resolution, family relationship centres and a number of law reforms, but said some initiatives were “creative attempts to meet gaps cause by insufficient funding”.
“Services have been developed because the legal aid dollar just doesn't stretch to case representation,” she said.
HRCLS senior lawyer Karen Keegan said hosting Ms Beckhouse gave regional lawyers insight into the latest happenings in the legal system.
“Law Week is another chance for us to link our community with the law,” she said.
“We value the partnerships we’ve created within our community and this event helps increase the strength of our relationships.”