A Family Court judge has rebuked the federal government for its "inordinate delay" in replacing retiring judges in an extraordinary speech calling for an urgent injection of funds to deal with a growing caseload.
Justice Stephen Thackray, who resigned as a judge of the Family Court's appeals division amid a controversial shake-up of court administration, said judges worked "very much harder" than was reasonable and court staff had not received a pay rise in "four years and eight months".
Perth-based Justice Thackray was speaking at a ceremonial farewell in Sydney.
Justice Thackray saidI'm not getting any younger and I've been burning to say these things for years
The popular judge resigned from the Full Court of the Family Court after a controversial decision by new Chief Justice John Pascoe to remove him from an administrative role as head of the appeal division and install Federal Circuit Court chief judge Will Alstergren in his place.
The administrative change has already taken effect but Justice Thackray will step down officially as a judge of the appeal division in September.
Michael Kearney, SC, speaking on behalf of the NSW Bar on Friday, said Justice Thackray was a "skilled administrator" who had presided over a "series of marked improvements in the operation of the full court", including a sharp reduction in the amount of time between the filing of appeals and determinations.
Mr Kearney said the time for resolving appeals had jumped in the Sydney registry to "a period of some two years but has now reduced six to 12 months".
In a letter to Chief Justice Pascoe on March 19, Law Council of Australia president Morry Bailes said appointing Federal Circuit Court Chief Judge Alstergren as administrative head of the Family Court's appeal division "causes a real concern of perceived bias" because decisions of the former court were often appealed to the latter.
Former Attorney-General George Brandis appointed Chief Justice Pascoe and Chief Judge Alstergren to their respective positions in October last year before he departed Parliament to take up a post as Australia's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
He commissioned an Australian Law Reform Commission review of the Family Law Act in September.
Justice Thackray will remain chief judge of the Family Court of Western Australia, which is the only state to have such a court.
He said inefficiencies in the Family Court were caused by a range of factors, including a shortage of judges and registrars. Retiring judges were "either not replaced or replaced with inordinate delay", he said.
Justice Thackray took aim at the "bizarre" family law structure in which jurisdiction is shared between the Family Court and the Family Circuit Court, saying it "[confused] the hell out of everyone" because different rules and procedures applied in each court.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said on Friday: "Both the Family Court and Federal Circuit have a full complement of judges, with the most recent appointment to the Family Court announced on 15 March."
He said he was "convinced that significant efficiencies and improved outcomes can be achieved by a range of reforms inside existing resources".
Mr Porter said "decisions of substantive internal court management" were ultimately a matter for Chief Justice Pascoe and Chief Judge Alstergren and "my observation is they are bringing an unprecedented energy to making a more efficient family court system".