Foster, 68, last week stepped down as chief executive of the Family Court, having chalked up 16 years in the role and 51 years in court administration. For the past eight years, he has also been chief executive of the Federal Circuit Court.
He left with some nice wine and a swag of stories (he also bailed Joe Cocker for marijuana possession).
But he warns the legal system is failing on the most important measure — customer satisfaction — and reckons it needs a real shake-up. Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant lauded Foster for his “fearless advice”, networking skills and unmatched experience. The former attorney general and current Family Court judge Robert McClelland said he had been a “real asset” for both courts.
“Lawyers generally, but judges in particular, can have an ego about them,’’ Justice McClelland said.
“Listening to their concerns and then communicating effectively with government is a real challenge, and Richard has managed to do it well.”
Foster was charged with merging the backroom operations of both courts in 2008 and had regular meetings with McClelland. “He’d come to see me and we would deal with the business end of the equation, and then we’d have a beer. He was able to mix that professionalism with a very pleasant personal manner.”
George Brandis referred to Foster’s “Janus-like capacity” as he quizzed him in 2010 over both courts in a Senate estimates hearing. Foster enjoys the tag, but doesn’t like that the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court have surrendered some of their autonomy to the Federal Court in recent reforms.
He is happier that both courts will have a new chief executive — the search is well advanced — and that other improvements are likely. “At long last, we might be able to get IT systems that are contemporary and standard across all federal courts. We don’t want the old standard railway gauge issue.
“For the punter it would be one transparent, consistent process. That should happen in every court system — really good IT systems and case management systems that are open and accountable.”
The “punter” shows every sign of embracing digital justice. For example there are now 50,000 online divorce applications a year. He hopes it will go some way to ease delays, which Foster nominates as the “greatest illness in the justice system”.
“I think it’s dreadful the time people have to wait for a decision. The system has to go through some transformation. We can’t continue to pour money into a system that doesn’t necessarily meet its core objectives or standards.”
Foster said “most change we do is pretty basic”.
“There are a whole range of issues that need to be looked at.”
Foster’s first job was at 16 as a clerk in 1965 at the local court in Murray Bridge. He ended up being in charge of local courts and then district courts in South Australia. He then had six years as head of courts in Western Australia before he joined the Family Court in 2000.
He says the advent of case management in the 1980s changed the game for court administrators. “The judges realised they couldn’t do their job without a well-educated, smart and savvy support staff.
“Administrators were no longer forelock-tuggers. We didn’t say ‘yes’ to a judge. We said ‘let’s consider this; what are the implications, it’s not just a matter of you saying you want to change it’. Business rules and principles started to emerge, with strategic plans. Before that, they just didn’t exist.”
Foster laments the fact that courts are now treated “like any other institution or arm of government”.
“I understand they are competing for funds, but the courts are being shabbily treated quite frankly … I don’t think they are respected like they used to be. They are certainly not resourced like they used to be.”
His biggest concern, however, is for those coming into the Family Court system. “There are so many violent and dysfunctional families.Judges are confronted with mum, dad and grandma on ice. And the poor kids; their futures are horrible.”
A big part of the solution is better liaison between state and federal authorities on child protection.
“The system is letting kids fall through the cracks,’’ Foster said. “It’s shameful.”
Call for Family Court overhaul
"We can’t continue to pour money into a system that doesn’t necessarily meet its core objectives or standards," says retiring Family Court CEO Richard Foster who, earlier this year, acknowledged he had no idea how many children were harmed…
—— FaceBook Comments —–
Rob J Hatton
Waits till he leaves and then bags out the system he helped create
11 July at 00:19
Pete Xi Another pontius pilates?
11 July at 00:23 · Edited
Steven Whiting He can pretend all he wants. I doubt it will save his neck though.
11 July at 03:39
Glen Hoogwaerts Talk is cheap.
11 July at 06:56
Gordon Cramer So glad he had some nice wine and memories to recall. Lots of people are now just memories in the hearts and minds of children and families who survived them. In any new version of the court, accountability needs to be a priority. Perhaps a KPI they can use is the number of suicides attributable to decisions of the Family Law Courts.
11 July at 07:09
[Lynda Reilly Kendall]
Lynda Reilly Kendall We need some one in the Courts now who can protect the children not someone from his lounge room feeling guilt. This past CEO should be tried in a court himself for being negligent while in his position. How insulting to come out now and speak off what you already knew when you could have changed things. Again about the money and boys club. Shame on you
11 July at 07:19
Jonesy Jones Parental alienation is child abuse
11 July at 07:30
Sharon Gaye Toby Billings. People look at this Facebook page this fathers fight to see his children. Parental alienation has to stop now.
Like · Reply · 2 · 11 July at 08:50
Adam Robinson WOW this joker should be put on trial this is one of the biggest breaches of duty of care for someone in a high ranking public position ever seen. He has the ordasity to whinge about a mess that he helped create and is focussed on IT systems beggars be…See more
Like · Reply · 1 · 11 July at 08:53
Vic McSlick Blah blah blah - yeah yeah - they're all coming out now saying how unfair it all is. Ex judges, lawyers and politicians but nothing gets done and it won't because who would ever believe a 'dad'!
11 July at 10:22
Adam Robinson This is an admission the system has failed Australian families by the top ranking officer of the family court. If a smart legal firm want to do something constructive they should commence a class action on behalf of all families that have endured the f…See more
July at 13:01
Andrew Spreckley Parental Alienation is child abuse, a child protection issue, but they cant get bums on seats let alone get competent practitioners who can investigate PA. So sad for our kids!
11 July at 14:35
David Thorp Good riddance to him - he should be locked up for the shameful legacy of family destruction and child abuse he's overseen the Family Court facilitating, and done nothing about. And now he says it's a problem! Good to see the Federal Circuit Court will …See more
Justice - DrDavidCThorp
11 July at 19:02
Kids first The Family Court has enormous impact on Australian families - and specifically Australian children.
But it has no idea on the type of impact, the extent or the long-term consequences of the decisions made within its walls
Family Court Senate Action