Rural ice epidemic adds to family court workload pressure

THE ice epidemic in rural Australia is contributing to the growing strain on the nation's family court system, which is short of judges and has been juggling dwindling resources.

The Chief Justice of the Federal Circuit Court, John Pascoe, said on Friday that the wait for appointment of new judges to the court was one reason for a backlog in cases.

Demands on the court's time were also increasing, particularly as a result of the ice epidemic, and the court was reportedly operating on about $60 million less than it did seven years ago.

"I think the family law system is certainly under a great deal of pressure. Part of that pressure stems from the ice epidemic in rural Australia, which complicates the work of the court enormously," Chief Justice Pascoe told ABC Radio.

"When people are on ice there tends to be more violence, much less rational behaviour and it can be more difficult to find a family member to take care of the children."

Chief Justice Pascoe also said the court was getting more evidence of family violence across the system, particularly cases of "psychological violence" and males controlling women "by controlling the money they spend".

While he said there was a range of reasons for the backlog in cases, the court was in discussions with the government about replacing outgoing judges.

"Unfortunately it's almost an overwhelming problem, because the more resources we get, in some ways, the more problems we get to deal with. It really is a complex situation," he said.

In Queensland, the latest annual report for the state's District Court showed new cases lodged in regional courthouses fell slightly in 2014-15, with clearance rates above 99% in regional towns except Maroochydore and Townsville, which were each at 79%.

But in NSW, the overall criminal case backlog in district courts reached just under 2000 in June this year, with more than 800 prisoners awaiting trial.

Federal Attorney-General George Brandis has said the Federal Court will soon get more judges, and legislation has also been introduced to parliament, but not yet been passed, to merge the corporate functions of three federal courts.

Topics:  domestic violence drugs family court ice

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