Push for full-time judge at Lismore Family Law Court

THE Lismore Family Law Court is bursting at the seams and putting a huge strain on families.

That's the view of local legal professionals, who have argued for years there needs to be a judge based permanently in Lismore.

Currently a judge from Brisbane comes to Lismore as part of the Federal Circuit Court 15 times a year, for four or five days at a time.

A judge might have 10 matters listed for final hearing and another 50-60 matters to hear within that time. It means they often have to sit from 9am until as late as 8pm to get through the case load - and that's before they sit down to write up their judgments.

For families waiting to have their cases heard, it means extensive delays and uncertainty while they wait to get through the system.

Far North Coast Family Law Practitioners Association chairperson Jenny Cook said really urgent matters might get an initial hearing within weeks but it can be another year for an interim decision and up to two years for a final hearing.

For cases likely to take up two days of the court's time, matters are usually moved to Brisbane or sometimes Newcastle, which puts further costs and stresses on to those involved.

"There are transport issues because there's no public transport to Brisbane and there's Legal Aid issues getting representation in Queensland courts," she said.

Ms Cook said there were overwhelming statistics to back up the need for a full-time judge for Lismore, which covers the whole of the Northern Rivers region.

She said the judge could "circuit" to Coffs Harbour, which faces the same issues.

"People would have greater access to justice, they are less likely to take matters into their own hands ... the delays would not be as great and judges would not have to work such outrageous hours," she said.

"This is something that touches everyone. It's been acknowledged to us on more than one occasion that there is more than enough work to support a full-time judge but just not the funding."

The Federal Circuit Court is funded by the Federal Attorney-General's Department and local Member Kevin Hogan has lobbied for the position to be created.

"I visited the Family Court in Lismore two months ago to discuss this issue," Mr Hogan said.

"Since then I have spoken with the Attorney-General about the need to appoint a full-time judge in Lismore so that family law disputes can be settled in a much more timely manner."

Attorney-General George Brandis indicated he would consider the issue and get back to him.

Topics:  court

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