2 May 2009
Judge calls for urgent changes to family law
By Adele Horin
Reference source: Judge calls for urgent changes to family lawNew provisions in the Family Law Act may be dissuading women from raising allegations of family violence and should be removed, the Chief Justice of the Family Court, Diana Bryant, has said.
She has written to the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, about her concerns and suggested "urgent consideration" be given to repealing parts of the act.
Of particular concern is a section dealing with the awarding of costs against the party that maliciously raises untrue allegations of violence or makes untrue denials. It is widely and wrongly interpreted in the community to mean that costs will be awarded against the party if they cannot prove the act complained of actually occurred.
Because of concerns about this section, people were "rarely" filing the form required under the act to bring allegations of family violence to the attention of the court, the judge said.
She has urged the Attorney-General to give urgent consideration to repealing the section because of the "strong" misunderstanding in the community.
Chief Justice of the Family Court, Diana Bryant saidI understand the reason is that parties are concerned that they will be ordered to pay costs if they do not prove the allegations of violence. Basically, this section is only relevant in cases where a person makes a malicious allegation that is found to be untrue [and] applies with equal force to false denials.
She also wants the Attorney-General to review the sections of the act that have promoted the view that parties will be considered "unfriendly" if they raise allegations of violence.
Justice Bryant's public intervention comes amid a national campaign by women to highlight the alleged failure of the act to keep children safe from violent and abusive parents.
Chief Justice, Diana Bryant saidOne section, for example, requires the court to consider the 'willingness of each child's parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent'.
It may be the myth that raising allegations of violence will result in a mother being branded unfriendly arises because of these sections
The Safer Family Law campaign, organised by the journalist and author Barbara Biggs, has 14 videos on YouTube that use actors to tell the Family Court stories of six real-life parents and two children, as well as videos of 10 professionals voicing disquiet about the law's impact on children and three journalists expressing concern about the confidentiality provision of the act. An online petition for reform of the act has garnered about 3000 names.
The campaign will culminate in rallies on Sunday, including one in Sydney at Cook and Phillip Park at 11am.