FAMILY Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant has been forced to make an awkward apology for hiring a comedy act that performed a lewd routine at a national law conference.

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THE Family Court has been unable to say who paid for a lewd comedy act that offended senior judges at its national conference.


The act reportedly so offended some senior judges, including High Court Chief Justice Robert French, that several decided to leave the room.

A question remains over whether taxpayers funded the comedy act performed at a dinner on the night before the National Family Law Conference in Hobart earlier this month. The Family Court yesterday did not return The Courier-Mail‘s phone calls or emails asking for clarification. But there is no doubt that the Family Court has been struggling to function to its optimum level because of growing workloads and budget cuts.

The many families waiting patiently and sometimes not so patiently for the Family Court to resolve their cases will hope that the valuable funds at the Court’s disposal were not used for the comedy act.

For most law-abiding Australians, the Family Court is the only branch of the judicial system they may ever come in contact with and, if they do, it will almost certainly be at an emotional and stressful time in their lives, involving intensely personal problems so difficult to resolve they have had to call in the lawyers and ask the courts for help. The last thing anyone needs in these circumstances is to have to wait longer than is absolutely necessary for judgments to be delivered because until that final ruling, lives, including those of children, are effectively in limbo.

In reality however, some judges are taking up to two years to deliver judgments as the courts struggle with growing workloads and enforced cost-cutting. The backlogs are now so serious that some families are taking matters into their own hands and simply walking away after expensive litigation, no longer able to wait for a ruling and having to get on with their lives.

The judges themselves appear quite aware of the problems. Melbourne-based Justice Bennett, in a recent judgment in an international custody matter that involved taking evidence from overseas, pointed to a lack of the necessary technology and resources, which she said had “compromised the court’s ability to deliver its core services”.

Chief Justice Bryant has herself said that the Federal Magistrates Court, which was set up more than a decade ago and which now assists with family law matters, was “never properly resourced from day one”.

The problems for the family courts have apparently been growing ever since, partly because of a growing case load, but also because of Federal Government cost cutting.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has been slow finding replacements for deceased or retired judicial officers and has still not announced who might replace Townsville Family Court judge Robert Monteith who retired nearly a year ago.

Earlier this year, Family Court chief executive officer Richard Foster also foreshadowed between 30 and 50 job losses in both the Family and Federal Magistrates Courts to tackle a predicted $16.8 million deficit over the next five years.

The many Australians, often in enormous distress, who seek justice in the family courts will hope the funding problems are considered and addressed.


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