The federal government has reached the next step in its attempt to merge the Family Court with the Federal Circuit Court - a move a Tasmanian family law specialist fears will result in less priority on family violence support.
A Senate committee recommended the government's merger bill be approved, allowing it to go back to the lower house, despite vigorous opposition from the legal fraternity, women's legal services and family violence services.
The merger - to create the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia - is intended to provide "a single point of entry" for the family law jurisdiction and a common set of rules and procedures.
Family lawyer Trevor McKenna, who is the also president of the Law Society of Tasmania, said it was unclear how the changes would achieve these aims, and they amounted to a "watering down" of the courts.
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"It creates this generalist court that will deal with family law matters, when we already had a specialist court that had this ecosystem around it of support, counselling and assessment services," he said.
"It removes the emphasis on specialisation. If you have Federal Court judges without a background of family law, how is that good for prioritising children and people exposed to family violence?
"The safety of children and parents has to be a priority and that's where the energy needs to be directed, but this merging of the courts doesn't seem to do anything to address that."
The changes involve Family Court matters entering the system in Division 2 of the newly-created FCFC, where some would be transferred to Division 1, which would also act as an appeal court.
The government believed the current system involved the Family and Federal Circuit Courts "dealing inconsistently" with family law matters, and the new system would be more "cohesive".
But in a Senate inquiry, concluded last week, the changes faced overwhelming opposition and resulted in an open letter to the Attorney-General signed by 110 organisations from across Australia, including the Launceston Community Legal Centre.
They urged the government to consider the Australian Law Reform Commission's 2019 report detailing ways to improve the system, which the government did not respond to.
Labor and the Greens also provided dissenting reports, detailing the under-resourcing of the courts.
Confidential letters from the Chief Justice of the Family Court and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court were not provided to the committee until its final report was tabled.
Chair of the Tasmanian family law committee, Kate Mooney SC, last year said the merger had "blindsided" family law practitioners and the changes had no support.
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