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Federal magistracy too late to stop delays.

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Robert McClelland MP

Shadow Attorney-General

Federal Member For Barton


Contact: Simon Banks Ph: (02) 6277 4323 or 0419 638 587




The Attorney-General’s proposal to establish a federal magistracy is nothing new and will be too late to solve the problem of delays in the Family Court according to the Shadow Attorney-General, Robert McClelland.


“Mr Williams first announced this proposal over two and a half years ago and today’s announcement doesn’t take the issue much further,” Mr McClelland said.


“Even if the Attorney-General acts immediately it will still be another two years before the federal magistracy is operational. In the meantime unacceptable court delays, particularly in the area of family law, will continue.


“In the longer term, the Labor Party believes that a magistracy attached to the Federal Court could be workable. However, there are significant questions in respect to the specialist Family Law area.


“Before Labor could support the introduction of such a federal magistracy we would have to be convinced that the magistrates would have the same access to the Family Court’s counselling and mediation services which successfully resolve about 95 percent of all cases.


“If the magistrates are not properly supported by these services then it may well result in an increase in the overall cost of delivering justice to Australians.


“We also question whether the creation of a new hierarchy of judges, called magistrates, will necessarily be the most cost effective means of addressing the court backlog.


“In particular, magistrates will have some restrictions on the type of cases coming before them. Given the complications in allocating appropriate matters, it may well be more cost effective in the long run to meet the cost of appointing additional judges.


“The Government’s figures suggest a difference of about $100,000 between the cost of a magistrate and a judge. If these magistrates are given powers that are too narrow then they will be of little benefit.


“The Family Court originally had a two tier judicial structure but it was found that the separation between complex and non-complex matters became unworkable. The end result was that all judges were given the same work and the same remuneration.


“At the end of the day the Family Law system will not function properly -whatever its structure - if it is not given the resources it so desperately needs.


“The delays in our Family Court system are entirely unnecessary. If the Attorney-General had been more diligent in replacing retiring judges, had not cut legal aid and had appointed more Family Court judges then this crisis would not have occurred in the first place.


“To suggest that these delays will be fixed by a system of unknown content and which won’t be up and running for another two years is an inadequate response to a crisis that is hurting Australian families today.”


8 December 1998