Groundbreaking tribunals for family law cases, backed by politicians and a Parliamentary Select Committee in Australia would provide families unable to access legal aid or lawyers, with a humane service to get help and support, its founders have said.

The model, which uses tribunals manned by panels of experts and an independent children’s lawyer, was developed by Queensland University professor Patrick Parkinson and Brian Knox, a former Principal Registrar of the Family Court and a District Court judge in Australia.

Parkinson said, “Our proposal provides access to justice and both quick and expert resolution of disputes for those who cannot get legal aid or afford lawyers.The proposal is that each case will be heard by a panel of three.

It will have an experienced family lawyer as chairperson, and appropriate experts including mental health professionals, drug and alcohol specialists, and those with extensive experience on issues of domestic violence and child abuse.

The tribunal, assisted by an independent children’s lawyer, will adopt an inquisitorial approach.”

Inquisitorial legal systems typically place more power in the hands of judges overseeing cases, and allows them to make directions and intervene during a case in ways which usually exceed options available in adversarial models currently being used in countries like England and Wales.

Australia began to look at alternative ways of processing family law disputes following the government’s admission that its conventional family courts – which it pioneered and which the UK exported – had been failing families for a long time.

The Australian government made the decision to abolish its current family court system in February, after the country’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, endorsed legislation to enact the move.

The family law tribunal is one of 29 recommendations set out in the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System report, which the government will consider later on this year.

Many thanks to Charles Pragnell for alerting us to this development.