Reflections on the Differences between Family Law in Australia and England

As an Australian qualified lawyer, I have been fascinated by the differences in family law between Australia and the U.K. 

Growing up in rural Victoria, where our Family  Court only sits once every 6 weeks and shares a Family Court Judge with several other small towns, to working in bustling Birmingham my eyes have been opened to just how different other jurisdictions do things.

For example, the application for an injunction or non-molestation order, which is an order the court can make to protect you from a family member who is domestically abusive towards you, is surprisingly different in Australia.

In Australia, you can apply for a Family Violence Intervention Order at a Magistrates Court (Criminal Court). You can attend the court and speak with the Family Violence Registrar who will help you fill out a complaint form. The Police will then serve the respondent with the complaint form and a Summons to appear in Court. Legal Aid is not usually available to make these applications, but a duty lawyer may be able to represent you on the day of the hearing. In my home town in Australia, every application for an Intervention Order made that week is then heard on one day back to back with all parties present.. I’m sure you can imagine the chaos that sometimes ensued, especially when everyone knew each other!

Applying for an injunction in the UK is a bit different. You may be eligible for legal aid to get help from a solicitor to make your application depending on your circumstances, and then if you need immediate protection an interim order can be made by a judge in the Family Courts ex-parte (which is without the respondent’s attendance or knowledge). The respondent is then served with the application. If the respondent wishes to contest the order he can attend the return hearing, which is often listed 2-3 weeks after the first emergency hearing.

The question remains, which system works better? Interestingly, following an inquiry into the Family Law System in Australia this year, it does appear that Australia may be edging towards reform inspired by the British system to join family law matters, domestic abuse matters and child protection matters to be dealt with by one court. Only time will tell if Australia takes Britain’s lead!

If you are a victim of domestic violence and you are seeking to apply for an order to protect yourself, please contact us on 0121 233 2042 and speak to one of our team to see how we can help you.