Advocates welcome move to hear cases involving family violence risk within 72 hours of being assessed
The family court has been hit with so many urgent applications during Australia’s lock-down that it has been forced to establish a dedicated list to deal exclusively with parenting and safety issues which have arisen from the Covid-19 restrictions.
The family court of Australia and the federal circuit court announced they would begin hearing lock-down related cases from Monday, in response to an increase in urgent applications for hearings.
Women’s safety advocates said the measure would save lives and commended the chief justice for taking action.
The courts have reported an increase in risk due to family violence resulting from the physical distance restrictions, which have left many vulnerable people locked away at home with violent partners.
Border restrictions and the temporary closure of supervised contact centres have led to an increase in parenting applications, with many parents unable to come to a new arrangement within the lock-down rules, while in some cases a positive Covid-19 test and necessary two-week quarantine has left a parent without support.
The courts reported a 39% increase in urgent applications of the family court and a 23% increase to the federal circuit court. Together, the courts cover all jurisdictions, except for Western Australia, which operates under a different system.
Women’s legal and domestic and family violence services have warned that the restrictions put in place to address the health pandemic have exacerbated existing issues within vulnerable families.
A spokeswoman for the courts said it had been advised of an increase of inquiries to those services since the restrictions were put in place last month, in relation to Covid-19 and parenting matters.
The chief justice the courts, Will Alstergren, said the new list had been created to better identify those urgent cases.
“Applications that are eligible to be dealt with through the Covid-19 List, especially those involving issues of risk and family violence, will receive immediate attention and will be triaged by a dedicated registrar who will assess the needs of the case and allocate it to be heard by a judge within 72 hours of being assessed,” he said.
“It is important that these urgent Covid-19 applications are closely managed on a national basis so that they can be heard as swiftly as possible given the unprecedented circumstances we are facing.
“I would also like the public to discover that if they need to file an urgent application because they have been directly impacted by Covid-19, it will be heard electronically as quickly as possible by a judge from any registry of the courts.”
The jurist said court staff had been working to have applications heard as quickly as possible, simplifying the process to deal with cases via electronic means, which means parties can file their applications through email and attend the hearing through a teleconference.
For the latest advice, information, copy and resources, go to Australia's Family Court To Fast-track Coronavirus Lockdown-related Cases
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