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Rough justice' fear in Family Court blitz

Rough justice' fear in Family Court blitz
Joel Gibson Legal Affairs Reporter  August 9, 2009

Reference source: Wikipedia

THE Family Court will fly judges to Sydney from four other states for a September blitz in an attempt to clear a backlog of 30 of its most difficult cases.

But the exercise has sparked fears of hasty, second-rate justice in disputes that determine the economic and emotional wellbeing of children and families.

The cases, some more than four years old, have built up after five judges left the court's busiest registry and only one was replaced.

During the planned ''special sitting'', the cases will be dispatched over a three-week period with the help of judges from Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Melbourne. But some lawyers will not be able to represent their clients in years-old cases because of clashes in the compressed timetable.

One barrister said many were trying to get out of the chaotic exercise, which would produce ''very rough justice''.

''This scheme is hugely unpopular with the profession, the clients and I think probably most of the judges. I know at least one of them has said, 'It won't work,''' the barrister said.

Les Stubbs, co-ordinator of family law at Turner Freeman, said he had cases that would clash. He would be forced to hand off clients to other lawyers.

''Can you imagine if we solved the health system's problems by saying, 'You can't have the doctor you want, we are going to get doctors from all over Australia and then give you 24 hours' notice for your procedure?''' he said.

''You are undoubtedly going to have conflicts, as we did in the mid-1990s when they tried it and it was a disaster because you can't be in more than one place at the same time.''

The cases targeted will be so-called ''hard-core'' parenting and property disputes that have proved difficult to resolve, sometimes because one or both parties have resisted resolution.

One participant in a complex four-year dispute over assets arising from a divorce case said he wanted a resolution but had misgivings about the September blitz.

''I am concerned that the thing that seems to concern the courts the most - that all due process was given to all individuals - I wonder if that's obtainable in this situation,'' he said.

Commonwealth Attorney-General Robert McClelland, responsible for Family Court funding, declined to comment.

A Family Court spokeswoman said it was ''absolutely'' confident people would get the same level of justice. ''The court has worked very hard to arrange the sittings to be heard in 'streams' and listing cases that have the same barrister in the same 'streams' to maximise the ability to use their barrister.''

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