Labor has vowed to tackle a damaging backlog of cases in the Wollongong’s family law registry, pledging funding for an additional full-time judge.
Under the election commitment, a new permanent judge would be installed at the city’s Federal Circuit Court, joining the lone part-time judge currently sitting at the overburdened site.
Cunningham MP Sharon Bird and Throsby MP Stephen Jones announced the measure on Saturday, as part of Labor’s $43.21 million family courts funding package.
“We have been alarmed at the backlog of matters that are building up at the Wollongong registry,” Mr Jones told the Mercury.
“The registry has been neglected. That’s not a criticism of the judge that has been here, but the workload is too high.
“We would expect the [new judge] would be steadily able to work through the backlog of cases.”
The pledge comes amid skyrocketing court waiting times. Matters filed today are unlikely to be resolved within two or three years.
At last count, in April, Wollongong’s Federal Circuit court had 581 matters on the books, making it the largest single-judge registry in Australia.
The problem has been compounded by a number of judge retirements and is not limited to the Wollongong registry.
Late last year, Federal Circuit Court Chief Judge John Pascoe considered moving judges from Parramatta and Wollongong to address overburdening at the Sydney registry.
Labor has pledged to install the new judge in 2016/2017 if it wins power at the July 2 election.
Ms Bird said delays in the court had taken a toll on area families.
“I’ve had a number of people coming into the office really distressed about how long their cases are taking to be resolved – particularly where there are children involved,” she said.
“I’ve had people come in who are in their fourth and fifth year of trying to get an outcome.
“That’s a long time in a child’s life to be waiting.”
Ms Bird credited Illawarra legal practitioners with bringing the issue to light. In December, area lawyers and their clients staged a public rally, calling for a full-time judge.
“We’ve had an outstanding campaign by our local legal representatives. They have seen the impact on the people they represent.”