Thursday, 8 October 2020
Launceston Family Court
Just a few months after last year's election, I sat down with representatives of the Law Society of Tasmania and the Family Law Practitioners Association of Tasmania to hear their concerns regarding the suitability of Launceston's Family Court building. Further discussions with other experts in this area and feedback from constituents left me in no doubt that the court needed to be moved. Some of the issues afflicting the current building include the security screening point being located on the third floor of the building rather than at the entrance; capacity problems, leaving the sole waiting room crowded with people; and occasions where judges and lawyers, as well as vulnerable people, have had to mix with litigants appearing in court. Concerns were also raised with the former president of the Law Society Evan Hughes by a Federal Circuit Court judge in Launceston who had witnessed a defendant engaged in a violent struggle with police in the waiting room. The judge also said that he would sit in the Launceston Family Court more often if he felt safer.
I was very quickly banging on the door of Attorney-General Christian Porter seeking funds so the court could be relocated. Minister Porter agreed to visit the court in April. However, COVID-19 put an end to that, as it did with many things. I would like to thank the Attorney-General for working so closely with me, listening to my concerns and acting to achieve a fantastic outcome. It was a wonderful moment on Tuesday night when I called Julia Higgins from the Family Law Practitioners Association of Tasmania to inform her that $5.4 million has been provided to support the relocation and refurbishment of the Launceston Federal Circuit Court and Family Court registries. Ms Higgins told our local newspaper:
"It's something that our organisation, along with the Law Society of Tasmania, have been campaigning for over many, many years," …
"[Bass MHR] Bridget Archer has been a really strong advocate and has shown very strong support for the argument that our facilities are not adequate. I was actually really surprised when she called to tell me about the funding, particularly with everything happening at the moment with COVID.
"But for the profession as a whole, we're just elated - not just for the safety of the practitioners and judicial officers, but for all of the people here in the North who use these courts."
This funding will improve the experience, safety and security of families and other court users in Launceston following recent incidents that have further demonstrated the need for this additional investment. As mentioned, the court deals with separating families experiencing stressful and difficult situations, including families affected by violence. This measure will allow the court to move to a specialist commercially leased premises with specific attributes to ensure the security of vulnerable parties and families attending court, as well as the judiciary and staff. Currently the court is in the process of identifying appropriate long-term premises for its Launceston registry, and, consistent with the separation of powers, the court will manage that relocation. This is an important part of the Morrison government's commitment to improving legal services for regional Australians.