Queensland Law Society

Access for all Australians key to family law review

The Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) family law review has the potential to touch the lives of all Australian families. Recently, Queensland Law Society contributed to the Law Council of Australia’s submission to the review, noting key areas of consultation and change.

Specialists from four QLS policy committees flagged issues such as accessibility and education, the protection of children and their families, adequate resourcing and infrastructure, and the mental health and wellbeing of those working in the family law system as paramount.

Queensland Law Society president Ken Taylor said correct and timely information being made available to the community was critical.

“With an abundance of information available from a variety of sources including Government, not-for-profit organisations, law firms and other information groups, this is a key resource that must be correct and easy to access.”

QLS representatives have highlighted six main groups that have the potential to be disadvantaged in the family law system: Rural, regional and remote Australians; Non-English speaking Australians; Indigenous Australians, those from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community, Australians living with a disability and self-represented litigants.

“There are many barriers for Indigenous Australians to access the family law system,” Queensland Law Society president Ken Taylor said.

“To overcome some of these we could appoint Indigenous solicitors, barristers, judicial officers and other court officers, as well as developing tailored education programs about the family law system,” he said.

“Indigenous communities and organisations could facilitate dispute resolution processes, and a ‘Best Practice Guide’ could be developed for solicitors working with Indigenous clients.”

Another group that could be disadvantaged includes those from non-English speaking backgrounds. To address part of the hindrances they could face, Mr Taylor recognised that interpreters played a critical role in the family law system.

“The Society supports additional resources for not only interpreters but also for specific family law training for interpreters so that they can adequately assist clients,” he said.

The submission by the Society also supported the equal treatment of LGBTIQ individuals and families under the law and by family law professionals. Issues such as parentage were noted as requiring changes in the Act to ensure equal access to justice.

Mr Taylor also flagged accessibility issues for those living in rural, regional and remote areas of Australia.

“QLS supports additional funding for courts in regional areas with appropriate safety infrastructure, funding for increased community education, increased use of technology and increased circuiting to regional areas as well as prompt appointments to regional registries,” he said.

“With so many Queenslanders and Australians being hindered from accessing justice, it is important to note that sustained cuts to legal assistance impact a significant portion of Australians, meaning that many of them can’t access specialist family law advice,” he said.

“We call for additional funding for legal assistance to assist in removing the barrier of cost for some of the most vulnerable in our community.”

Court processes also need to be cost-effective and timely for everyone involved. 

“The best interests and protection of children must always come first,” he said.

“Every step of the way, children should be protected from the exposure to harm, abuse, violence or continuing conflict between parties.”

Queensland Law Society looks forward to continuing their consultation with the relevant stakeholders and the Federal Government on this review.

You can find out more about the ALRC’s Review of the family law system here.

For more on access to justice, you can access the QLS Access to Justice Scorecard for 2017 here.