The 14th Australian National Family Law Conference has just concluded in Canberra. It remains the world's foremost national conference for practising family lawyers and increasingly an important date in the calendar for international family lawyers.
It attracted over 750 delegates, a good proportion of the specialist, accredited family lawyers across Australia. One of its prime attractions is the combination of solicitors, barristers, judges, mediators and all other professionals in the family justice system. Too many national conferences elsewhere in the world have segregation between the judiciary and practitioners, sometimes solicitors and barristers, certainly with mediators and other artificial barriers. Whatever our calling and status, we are all crucial members of a vital service in our communities namely family resolution and family justice. The system breaks down when one part of the service is not fully engaged, fairly remunerated and involved in reform and good practice. Australia has led the way for many years in bringing together all family justice professionals.
Moreover and in a very Australian egalitarian fashion, it is not with any sense that the judiciary are at the top of the tree, followed sometimes obsequiously by the Bar, with solicitors and mediators most definitely at the bottom of the pyramid! At the Australian conference, professionals rub equal shoulders with each other and engage in debate on issues in a very robust fashion. Some jurisdictions have much to learn from this, to the benefit of the family justice system in those jurisdictions.
One of the chief features of the Australian family law conference is the "State of the Nation" session. The leaders of the separate elements within the family justice system reflect on the previous couple of years and consider trends and issues for the future. It is invariably both candid and insightful. This year acknowledged the difficulties, experienced even more elsewhere in the world, of shortages of government funding for the reforms including in the separate streams of the family court service in Australia.
One feature is its duration. In a way which amazes practitioners in other countries, it lasts from Monday evening until Friday lunchtime. This shows its appeal sustained biannually making it worthwhile for practitioners to give up, in effect, a week of practice. With family law conferences elsewhere in the world such as England cutting back on the duration of their conferences, Australia shows that it can be done with the appropriate organisation and presentations, with a series of plenary and concurrent sessions.
Past conferences have been light on the international element. Canberra showed the increased international awareness with one afternoon committed just to international issues, children and finance. Australia has two distinctive elements: freestanding financial applications separate to a divorce and a forum test weighted heavily in favour of proceedings being in Australia. International lawyers need to understand these carefully.
The next conference is in Hobart, Tasmania, on 14-17 October 2012.
He is an English specialist accredited solicitor, mediator, family arbitrator, Deputy District Judge at the Principal Registry of the Family Division, High Court, London and also an Australian qualified solicitor, barrister and mediator. He is a Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and author of A Practical Guide to International Family Law (Jordan Publishing, 2008). He is chair of the Family Law Review Group of the Centre for Social Justice. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.