A Hunter family law expert says the Morrison government's slow movements to replace a retired judge in Newcastle was part of a "double whammy" facing people in this region, which could cause significant delays to cases.
Catherine Henry Lawyers head of relationship law Rob Dilley said leaving only two judges on the Federal Circuit Court bench after Judge Janet Terry retired at the mandatory age of 70 earlier this month was bad news for people in the Hunter ahead of the September 1 merger between the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
Mr Dilley said more judges - not a merger - was what the community needed.
"The delay in replacing Judge Terry is a double whammy, leaving only two judges on the bench in Newcastle," he said.
"The Newcastle registry is the busiest in Australia in terms of the volume of cases per judge with judges juggling hundreds of cases at a time."
The Newcastle Herald reported on Monday that the number of cases on each judge's docket blew out to almost twice the national average during an eight month period when Newcastle was left with two judges in 2017.
Mr Dilley said the formation of the new court - the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia - would likely lead to further delays as it would be more generalised, hearing matters outside of the family law jurisdiction.
He said the merger was part of a plan by the government to modernise family law in Australia but had been met with wide criticism from the legal community and other stakeholders, including former family law court judges.
"The more stress we place on already over-worked judicial officers, the more potential there is for appeals and increased costs for families," Mr Dilley said.
"Given the long delays facing people using the Family and Federal Circuit courts, we can't have a new system that puts family matters in competition with matters such as immigration and bankruptcy.
"The latest updates from the new court outline a range of name changes for forms and procedures but what we need is more judges."
A spokesperson for the Attorney General's Department said in a statement to the Newcastle Herald earlier this week that judicial appointments were important decisions and announcements would be made as soon as possible.
"The Australian government continues to monitor the ongoing resourcing and funding of the courts to ensure families are supported during difficult times," the department's statement said.
"The appointment of a judge is an important decision, which is given careful consideration to ensure all judicial appointments are based on merit.
"Eleven judicial appointments have been made to the Federal Circuit Court in 2021 with four of those appointments made as recently as July and August.
"The government is progressing further judicial appointments to the federal courts and announcements will be made as soon as possible."
IN THE NEWS
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: