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Westminster News & Family Law Updates

Westminster Football Function

The 2017 AFL season was a doozy – it was almost impossible to consistently tip winners from week to week, the ladder had been seriously tight and the race for finals was intense. Given the majority of the team at Westminster Lawyers keenly follow AFL, it was fabulous to share in the excitement of grand final week with friends of the firm, by hosting a Grand Final Preview Function at the RACV Club, as a prelude to the highly anticipated premiership match between the Tigers and the Crows. We were very fortunate to be joined by special guest, St Kilda’s longest serving captain and recent retiree, Nick Riewoldt. Nick shared anecdotes from his playing days, including untold stories never before published and finished by taking impromptu questions from our guests. As Bruce McAvaney would say, it was a “special” evening (especially for St Kilda fans!). Thank you to all those who attended and made it such a special night. We hope to be back bigger and better at the conclusion of the 2018 season.


Judicial Appointments

On 10 October 2017, the Attorney-General Senator The Hon George Brandis QC announced the appointment of the new Chief Justice of the Family Court and the new Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court. Both appointments commenced on 13 October 2017.

  1. The new Chief Justice of Family Court is the Honourable John Pascoe AC CVO, who has been the Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court since 2004 to present. His service to the law and to the judiciary was recognised by his appointment as a Companion of the Order of Australia in January 2016.

  2. The new Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court is Mr William Alstergren QC. Mr Alstergren is the current President of the Australian Bar Association. He is also a former Chairman of the Victorian Bar. Mr Alstergren has practised as a barrister in Melbourne since 1991, and took silk in 2012. His principal areas of practice have included commercial law, tax law, industrial law and family law. Mr Alstergren has also been issued a joint commission as a Justice of the Family Court of Australia.

The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, the Honourable Diana Bryant AO, retired on 12 October 2017. Chief Justice Bryant led the Family Court for 13 years, after being appointed in 2004 after the Hon Alastair Nicholson. Prior to her appointment, Chief Justice Bryant was the inaugural Chief Federal Magistrate of the then Federal Magistrates Court (now Federal Circuit Court) from 2000 to 2004.


Review of the Family Law System

In 2017, we celebrated the 41st anniversary of the Family Court.

On 27 September 2017, the Attorney-General commissioned the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to undertake the first comprehensive review of the family law system since the commencement of the Family Law in 1976.

Professor Helen Rhoades at the Melbourne Law School is appointed to lead the work.

The ALRC will consult widely with the community, practitioners and experts in family law and family dispute resolution, the legal, services and health sectors, as well as interested members of the public.

The review of the family law system will be broad and far reaching, focusing on key areas of importance to Australian families. These include ensuring the family law system prioritises the best interests of children, best addresses family violence and child abuse, and supports families, including those with complex needs to resolve their family law disputes quickly and safely while minimising the financial burden.

It is to involve a consideration of reforms to the family law system that are necessary or desirable, in particular in relation to:

  • the appropriate, early and cost-effective resolution of all family law disputes;

  • the protection of the best interests of children and their safety;

  • family law services, including (but not limited to) dispute resolution services;

  • family violence and child abuse, including protection for vulnerable witnesses;

  • the best ways to inform decision-makers about the best interests of children, and the views held by children in family disputes

  • collaboration, coordination, and integration between the family law system and other Commonwealth, state and territory systems, including family support services and the family violence and child protection systems;

  • whether the adversarial court system offers the best way to support the safety of families and resolve matters in the best interests of children, and the opportunities for less adversarial resolution of parenting and property disputes;

  • rules of procedure, and rules of evidence, that would best support high quality decision‑making in family disputes

  • mechanisms for reviewing and appealing decisions

  • families with complex needs, including where there is family violence, drug or alcohol addiction or serious mental illness;

  • the underlying substantive rules and general legal principles in relation to parenting and property;

  • the skills, including but not limited to legal, required of professionals in the family law system;

  • restriction on publication of court proceedings;

  • improving the clarity and accessibility of the law; and

  • any other matters related to these Terms of Reference.

The ALRC is also to consider what changes, if any, should be made to the family law system including by amendments to the Family Law Act 1975, and other related legislation.

The review commenced on 1 October 2017 and will report to the Attorney-General by 31 March 2019.

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