Extra cash for federal courts welcome but sustainable funding must be top priority, lawyers group says

By Melissa Coade

May 12, 2021

(AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The Law Council of Australia (LCA) has commended a government budget decision to allocate additional resources to the federal courts for more judges and personnel.

The budget delivered $123.8 million to support reform of the family law system over the next four years, and also stumped up cash to improve access and safety measures for children and families. 

LCA president Dr Jacoba Brasch said the lawyers’ advocacy group had made the case in a pre-budget submission for extra government resourcing to help meet the ‘considerable’ court workload and long delays facing litigants.

[We] consider that further improvements to sustainable funding levels could be achieved through the Australian government consulting closely with the federal courts and tribunals and the legal profession, in order to undertake a full review of the resourcing needs of the judicial system, incorporating the challenges and benefits that have been identified in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr Brasch said. 

A breakdown of the multi-million dollar package for legal investment includes $60.8 million over four years from 2021-22 to reform family law case management processes. 

Just over $6 million in 2021-22 will go towards a scheme for family violence and cross examination of parties. 

A $29 million allocation will improve information sharing between the family law, family violence, and child protection systems. And another $29 million will flow to South Australia’s family law registry with legal assistance funding for family law matters in the state and increased judicial and court resources.

“Such measures will assist the pending and growing caseload and backlogs in the federal courts.

“It will also improve the ability of the courts to process and resolve matters in a timely manner and reduce extreme personal pressure on judges as they try to meet demand,” Dr Brasch said.

Additional money ($54.8 million over four years) to help deal with a backlog of cases before the Migration and Refugee Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal was also welcomed by the LCA. But Dr Brasch said the cost of the government’s measure was partially being met with extra fees charged to applicants seeking a review of non-protection visa decisions via the tribunal’s division, which would only serve to hurt ‘the most vulnerable’ people.

“The government expects this measure to increase revenue by $7.1 million over four years from 2021-22 from lodgement fees for appeals to the Federal Circuit of Australia and Federal Court of Australia,” Dr Brash said.

“The Law Council looks forward to continuing to work with the Australian government to ensure adequate funding levels are achieved for the federal courts,” she added.

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