Family Court Western Australia
The WA Family Law court is grappling with an "unprecedented" increased workload, with wait times for trials expected to blow out to two years and the chief judge calling on the Government to provide additional resources.
- WA Family Law chief judge warns of major backlog of cases in 2017
- Chief Judge Stephen Thackray will no longer be able to hear trials in Perth as he increases his work with the Federal Family Court
- Advocates fear vulnerable women and children will be put at risk if there are significant delays in hearing important custody matters
An acting judge who was employed to deal with the existing backlog can no longer take up the role because of health concerns.
Meanwhile, the court's chief judge will no longer be available for trials in Perth, as he moves full time to a federal family court role, leaving just four full-time judges for the court.
In a letter to the Family Law Practitioners' Association, seen by the ABC, chief judge Stephen Thackray warns the court is facing a backlog of cases stretching into next year and this will create a "serious problem" for the court.
"The pressures created by this unexpected turn of events will be exacerbated by other significant listing changes that have become necessary in the first half of 2017, some of which will affect trials already listed in January and February, " he writes.
Judge Thackray will increase his workload as senior judge in the Appeal Division of the federal Family Court from March, which he said meant he would no longer be available for trials in Perth.
He said he was talking to the state Attorney-General to try to find a solution.
Temporary appointments 'band aid on a festering sore'
Family Law Practitioners' Association president Michael Berry SC said temporary appointments needed to be replaced by permanent, full-time judicial officers.
"In the past we have had a number of acting positions, we have had acting registrars, acting magistrates, acting judges, " he said.
"This is an unstated acknowledgement by Government that the resources are needed, but Government is putting a band aid on a festering sore."
He also warned families would suffer if the delays were not addressed.
"Families under pressure, parents with children who are unable to reach an agreement are going to have to endure delay, and there is nothing more corrosive for the mental health of families and children than having delay when they are in conflict.
"When these relationships break down, it is essential that government provides adequate resources for people to have their disputes resolved."
According to last year's annual report, the average wait time for a trial is already more than a year and a half.