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What’s good about family law? A Barrister, Mediator, Arbitrator and Advocate’s perspective

Issues - Summer Edition 2023-2024

What’s good about family law? A Barrister, Mediator, Arbitrator and Advocate’s perspective

Q: Liz, what would you consider to be ‘good’ or a positive about working in Family Law?

LP: Definitely the Judges! I am very thankful for their contribution. I know many judicial officers who I greatly admire for their sensitivity to family members while they take on the huge responsibility of finding a solution for children and parents experiencing family breakdown. Judges need an extraordinary degree of knowledge and experience. They have a very tough job in making decisions for families and children at a time of great vulnerability. This is such a heavy responsibility with huge implications for parents and children’s futures.

Q: What qualities and qualifications are needed to become a judge in the FCFCOA?

LP: Well, there are certain statutory requirements. For example, to be appointed to Division 1 of the FCFCOA, the candidate has to have been a judge in another court or have worked as a legal practitioner of the High Court, or the Supreme Court of a State or Territory, for at least 5 years. They have to possess the knowledge, skills, experience and aptitude, required to deal with family law matters, including matters involving family violence.

In order to be appointed to Division 2 of the FCFCOA, the candidate has to have worked as a legal practitioner for at least 5 years and have the ability to deal with the wide range of matters that may come before that court.

In addition to these statutory requirements, judges must also have the following personal and professional qualities to the highest degree:

  •  outstanding legal expertise
  •  conceptual, analytical and organisational skills
  •  advanced decision-making skills
  •  excellent written communication skills, demonstrating an ability (or capacity to quickly develop the ability) to deliver judgments in a timely manner
  •  temperament, integrity, impartiality, tact and courtesy
  •  interpersonal and communication skills
  •  a genuine commitment to serving the community
  •  capacity to work effectively under pressure
  •  a commitment to professional development
  •  the capacity to inspire respect and confidence, and
  •  the capacity to work across several areas of the court’s jurisdiction

More recently, the Government has been committed to seeking applications from suitably qualified persons who reflect the diversity of the Australian community, including:

  •  people with disability
  •  people of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin
  •  LGBTQI+ people
  •  people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Q: Who decides which candidates make the final cut?

L.P As the nation’s first law officer, the Attorney-General is responsible for recommending judicial appointments to the Australian Government. The Government’s process for appointing judges generally to the Federal Courts and to the FCFCOA specifically, seeks to fill vacancies as soon as reasonably practicable while ensuring a transparent, consultative and merit-based process.

This process may include:

  •  broad consultation with members of the legal professional community to seek nominations
  •  advertising
  •  seeking expressions of interest from suitable candidates, and
  •  assessment of candidates by advisory panels comprising of eminent individuals who will provide recommendations to the Attorney-General for consideration.

Q: What happens when the appointment is made?

LP Judges of the Federal Court and the FCFCOA are appointed by the Governor-General for a term that expires on the appointee attaining the age of 70. In my opinion, this ‘statutory senility’ retirement requirement is the greatest travesty of all, since most of our FCFCOA judges are absolutely amazing and at 70 years young, still have so much to offer.

Q: Is there anything you would like to add?

LP I would like to extend my thanks to all the hard working members of the judiciary, without whom the Courts would not be able to function.

References

Kelly, J. B. (2007). Children’s living arrangements following separation and divorce: Insights from empirical and clinical research. Family Process, 46(1), 35-52. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1545-5300.2006.00190.x

Laletas, S., & Khasin, M. (2021, 2021/08/01/). Children of high conflict divorce: Exploring the experiences of primary school teachers. Children and Youth Services Review, 127, 106072. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2021.106072

Maguire, G., & Byrne, M. K. (2017). The law is not as blind as it seems: Relative rates of vicarious trauma among lawyers and mental health professionals. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 24(2), 233-243. https://doi.org/10.1080/13218719.2016.1220037

Main, M., Hesse, E., & Hesse, S. (2011). Attachment theory and research: Overview with suggested applications to child custody. Family Court Review, 49(3), 426-463. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-1617.2011.01383.x

Schrever, C., Hulbert, C., & Sourdin, T. (2022, 2022/03/04). Where stress presides: Predictors and correlates of stress among australian judges and magistrates. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 29(2), 290-322. https://doi.org/10.1080/13218719.2021.1904456

Sorek, Y. (2019, 2019/12/01/). Children of divorce evaluate their quality of life: The moderating effect of psychological processes. Children and Youth Services Review, 107, 104533. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2019.104533

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