Roving family law courts will go to Aborigines

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family-court-of-australiaFAMILY law matters in indigenous communities will be heard outside courtrooms and a team established to help Aborigines under a plan being considered by the Federal Circuit Court.

Chief Judge John Pascoe told The Australian he wants to devote part of the court to looking after Aboriginal families and their ­welfare under a reconciliation ­action plan launched yesterday by the Attorney-General, George Brandis.

It is the first court in the country to have developed such a plan.

“We wanted something that was concrete, something that you could measure,” Chief Judge Pascoe said.

The Federal Circuit Court, which has jurisdiction over family, consumer and human rights law, was known as the Federal Magistrates Court until last April.

The plan is to introduce hearings in informal settings for indigenous people by June next year where there are no dedicated court buildings, and the creation of a specific family law wing for Aborigines.

The plan also includes indigenous mentoring and employment targets. “I would really like to see part of the court absolutely devoted to looking after Aboriginal people, their children and their welfare,” he said. “There are a lot of barriers to overcome but we should adapt the processes where a court can sit in an Aboriginal medical service or somewhere people feel comfortable.”

He said he had become convinced change was needed in the court when he met a group of elders, many of them grandmothers, in Dubbo and heard stories about the Stolen Generations and wariness when it comes to accessing justice.

“One grandmother I spoke to told me she would spend many days walking up and down outside her grandchildren’s school to make sure nobody took the children,” Chief Judge Pascoe said. “That was just so upsetting and I wanted to know what it was a court could actually do to make a real difference and not just make a token gesture.”

He said children were being removed from their homes at a rate almost as high as during the Stolen Generations.

Senator Brandis, launching the plan in Sydney’s Redfern yesterday, said it was “one building block in the national goal to which we all aspire”, reconciliation. He did not answer questions about the government’s exposure draft of revisions to the Racial Discrimination Act.

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