Terry Betts has been appointed judge at the Newcastle Registry of the Federal Circuit Court, the day the Turnbull government announced the circuit court would merge with the Family Court of Australia.
Mr Betts will replace Judge Stephen Middleton, who was transferred to Queensland in April.
Judge Middleton’s departure prompted concern from Labor over the possibility that court backlogs could get worse while the city was a judge short.
Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon welcomed Mr Betts’ appointment on Wednesday but said she was “sceptical” of the government’s announcement that it would merge the courts.
“I’ve seen nothing to suggest this merger will address the serious under resourcing facing Newcastle’s federal courts, nor the desperate under funding of Legal Aid and Community Legal Centres,” she told the Newcastle Herald.
“With no mention of any new ongoing funding, it’s also hard to see how this will reduce the backlog caused by the government’s failure to replace judges in a timely manner.”
The new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia will be established in January and have two divisions with one entry point – existing family court judges will deal with family law matters and sitting circuit court judges will adjudicate on family and general federal law matters.
The change is designed to stop matters, particularly disputes over property and custody of children, from being pushed from one court to another.
Attorney General Christian Porter said it would save time and money in family law disputes.
“This significant structural change is designed to dramatically increase the number of family law matters finalised each and every year and reduce the backlog of unresolved cases on hand at any one time,” he said.
“The purpose of the reform is to ensure Australian families experience shorter waiting times, and a reduction in the potential for conflict caused by prolonged and acrimonious family disputes."
Labor proposed the merger a decade ago but ultimately decided against it after the Coalition and some in the legal community opposed the plan.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.