The alarming wait times for cases at WA’s Family Court has been put into sharp focus, after an extraordinary two-and-half year delay in one judgment contributed to the decision being thrown out on appeal — and the eight-year old legal battle to be sent back to square one.
The case of G vs O, involving two high-flying former lovers fighting over property entitlements, first came before a court in 2010, was dismissed in 2011, revived in 2012 and went to trial in 2014.
But it was only 901 days, or nearly 30 months, later that Justice John Walters delivered his 122 paragraph decision, which dismissed the woman’s claim.
Now, WA’s highest court has ruled that unexplained delay, along with “deficiencies in the reasons and fact-finding process” by the judge means a miscarriage of justice has occurred.
“Ordering a new trial is 'in all cases … a most deplorable result'. That is all the more so in this case, given its long and unfortunate history,” the Court of Appeal judgment said.
“It is deeply regrettable that, more than eleven years after the end of the parties' relationship and almost seven years after the commencement of the primary proceedings, the parties are to be required to retry the matter.
“However ... the only option for this court is to set aside the trial judge's orders and remit the matter ... for a retrial.”
The decision comes as delays in the time it takes to get a trial at WA’s Family Court continue to sky rocket.
In last year’s annual report, it was revealed the average time to trial had ballooned to 97 weeks, or just under two years. For parenting-only matters, the time to wait was 100 weeks.
One of the reasons for that, said Chief Judge Steven Thackray, was the ongoing ill-health of Justice Walters in 2017, who has now retired.
And after more than a decade in the role of Chief Judge, Justice Thackray is to retire himself early next year, which is likely to cause more upheaval.
Ironically, Justice Thackray has been a long-standing critic of the federal government’s treatment of the Family Court system, blasting them earlier this year for the "inordinate delay" in replacing retiring judges.
“We have been lumbered with the most extraordinary legislation that has grown like topsy and appears to have been drafted by a committee of people charged with the responsibility for making things as difficult as possible for judges and the poor old self-represented litigants,” Judge Thackray said.
And he has also been critical of the federal government’s proposed Family Court reform, which would merge the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court in a bid to ease pressures.
Originally published as Family Court wait-time farce