The Courier-Mail

Justice fails our children

Courts put young at risk


THE safety of children is being put at risk by the courts that are supposed to protect them, with judges forced to grant parents custody or visitation even when they hold grave concerns.

A damning Family Law Council report to Government has laid out systemic failings of courts in dealing with families scarred with domestic violence, child and sexual abuse, drug and alcohol problems and mental health issues. It has called for a massive overhaul of the judicial system.

It found an escalation of family court matters featuring serious risk factors in recent years, with family violence present in 81 per cent of cases last year.

Despite widespread concerns over safety, the family law system has no capacity to investigat­e child risk issues or compel a child protection department to intervene or investigat­e.

The limitation­s leave judges to decide only how much time children should spend with each parent without real reference to child protection or family violence issues. “There is rarely an option available to a judicial officer beyond making a parenting order in favour of the ‘least detrimenta­l’ of the proposals presented to the court,” the Federal Government has been told.

The interim report was released by Attorney-General George Brandis, who ordered the critical look into how family law and child protection matters intersect.

Supporting the complaints of victim advocates, the report found courts were too confusing, slow, repetitive, time-consuming, create limbo periods, and are unco-ordinated, expensive and inflexible for vulnerable people.

It recommends a redesign of courts, including informatio­n sharing between family courts, child protection, police and mental health services.

It also suggests a national database of court orders and for state and children’s courts to be able to make and vary parenting orders.

Senator Brandis said he looked forward to the council’s final report, due mid next year. The report will also examine support services.

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