The Turnbull Government has introduced a bill to merge the administration of the Federal Court with the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court. The Courts Administration Legislation Amendment Bill was introduced by Attorney-General George Brandis in the Senate on 2 December 2015. According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the bill would combine the three courts (and the National Native Title Tribunal, which is currently part of the Federal Court system) into a “single administrative entity”, consolidating “finance, human resources, information technology and property and operations arrangements”. The Courts’ separate statutory identities and establishing legislation would be retained to preserve their independence.
In his second reading speech to the Senate, Mr Brandis said the change would relieve ongoing deficits and budgetary pressures in the Family and Federal Courts, saying that:
“At the time of the Budget, the family courts were projecting over $44 million in operating losses over the forward estimates. The Government could not allow these losses to continue unabated.
Without the merger implemented by the Bill, alternative and much less palatable measures would need to be explored to allow budgets to be met. Because access to the courts is a fundamental tenet upon which our justice system is based, the Government was anxious to ensure budget rectitude did not result in frontline court services being cut.”
He also noted that all savings from the merger would be retained by the court systems.
In a media release on the new bill, the Attorney-General also said that he planned to make a further two appointments to the Federal Circuit Court, to bring the court up to its full complement, and that these would be announced “soon”.
The Bill is currently drafted to introduces the changes in two stages, with the first amendments currently scheduled to commence on 1 July 2016, and a second stage commencing on 1 January 2018.
The new management structure for the courts would involve the creation of a role to superintend administrative affairs, excluding “corporate services”. Each Court system would be headed by a “Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar” who would be appointed by the Governor-General. Currently, the Family Court and the Federal Court share a CEO, and the Family Law Act separates the CEO and the Principal Registrar positions.
“Corporate services”, which would include “communications, finance, human resources, information technology, library services, procurement and contract management, property, risk oversight and management and statistics”, would be the responsibility of the Federal Court CEO.
The Family Court Chief Judge and Deputy Chief Judge’s titles will also be changed to Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice.
The Bill is currently in the Senate, although the Commonwealth Parliament has finished sitting for the year.
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Courts Administration Legislation Amendment Bill 2015, Explanatory Memorandum and Second Reading Speech - available from TimeBase's LawOne service
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