Legislation to merge the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court is "disappointing" and could see the most vulnerable families and children in the region "slip through the cracks", says Dubbo principal solicitor Patrick O'Callaghan.
A bill to merge the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court was approved in the Senate on Friday.
This was despite widespread condemnation from members of the legal community, who say the move will have devastating outcomes for women and children.
Opponents of the changes, including Western NSW Community Legal Centre's principal solicitor Patrick O'Callaghan, say it collapses the specialist Family Court into a chronically underfunded, generalist court and dismantles its appeal division.
Mr O'Callahan was among more than 155 signatories to an open letter opposing the reform. The signatories, including retired Family Court and Federal Circuit Court judges, warned the merger could undermine the safety of family violence victim-survivors.
In particular, Mr O'Callahan said the merger could be detrimental to our region, which has the highest rates of domestic violence in NSW.
He argues abolishing the Family Court would mean there was no avenue for complex matters to be heard with a specialist focus on family and domestic abuse cases, and would only create further increase the delay in matters being resolved.
"The Federal Circuit Court is grossly under-resourced as it is," Mr O'Callaghan said.
"Out here you've got close to a two-year waiting time, for a matter from the time it started to the final hearing. And when you're dealing with kids matters in particular, that's pretty unacceptable."
He said the merger would put pressure on parties to resole matters and come to an agreement in order to shorten the delays.
"The problem with that, and the flow on effect is they're unlikely to keep following what ever agreements they've agreed to going forward, so they end up back in the system at some point," Mr O'Callahan said.
So far it hasn't been discussed if greater resources would be provided to the Federal Circuit Court jurisdiction to make sure delays and backlogs, currently being experienced, would be addressed or reduced.
Mr O'Callahan said the speed of the decision was most concerning, as it is an area that needed to be considered with proper research and study to identify the impacts this could have on family matters and families.
"Part of the concern, from what we can gather, there doesn't appear to have been these considerations around the long-term impacts by merging these courts, and what it might have on the families, of in particular these domestic violence situations and serious sexual abuse matters," he said.
Mr O'Callahan said these considerations needed to be made, because the Family Court dealt with and specialised in complex serious cases in relation to children's custody, allegations of sexual abuse, serious complex trauma and violence.
He argued the merger would eliminate specially trained judges dealing with complex domestic violence matters, which would heavily impact the flow on affects from outcomes.
"Dealing with families' lives is a fundamental part of our culture. Even if parents don't get on for whatever reasons, if you give that family the best chance to function, that's the best way for the kids," Mr O'Callahan said.
"Then we all benefit from that overall, because that impacts how they grow up and turn out as adults, and how they'e able to function as adults."
The government insisted the change will reduce backlogs with as many as 8000 extra cases resolved each year. However, as Mr O'Callahan said streamlining these backlogs into a single court system could create more problems than it solves.
For the family law jurisdiction to work effectively and function appropriately, Mr O'Callahan said a specialist system dedicated to family and domestic violence matters was paramount.
"Having specialist magistrates or judges who are properly trained in family and domestic violence, and not just identifying the physical abuse, but all the other abuse that comes with domestic violence, such as financial control, emotional abuse, coercive control, and all these other much more subtle layers of violence that go on within a relationship ... is really critical to the system working effectively and functioning properly."