Generic Law court picture a member of the bar wearing barristers wig.. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown.
Generic Law court picture a member of the bar wearing barristers wig.. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown.

Why high-paid judges are getting more perks

STRESSED judges were given extra holidays and "resilience training'' after broken families flooded the family courts with a record 106,603 divorce disputes last financial year.

Chief Justice Will Alstergren, who heads the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court, has flagged ­concerns over "judicial health and wellbeing'' as high-paid judges juggle heavier workloads.

He said Federal Circuit Court judges, who hear most of the nation's family law disputes, were among the hardest-working judges in the country, handling up to 500 cases each in a year.

"The daily, weekly and monthly pressures on our judges to hear matters in court and deliver judgments in a timely and expeditious manner are relentless,'' he said in the Federal Circuit Court's annual report ­yesterday.

"The pressure of outstanding reserved judgments has a critical impact on judicial health and wellbeing.''

More than 600 Family Court staff were given ­resilience training, and an extensive health and wellbeing program was introduced for judges in 2018-19, the Family Court's annual report has revealed.

But details of the new judicial health and wellbeing policy are secret, with a ­Family Court spokeswoman saying that it was a judicial-related document so could not be made public.

The Family Court has also set up a new judicial health and wellbeing committee.

Australian Law Reform Commission president Sarah Derrington raised concerns about the mental health of family law judges in June, warning they can suffer from "vicarious trauma''.

Judges have pocketed a 2 per cent pay rise this year - boosting salaries to $468,020 for Family Court judges and $394,980 for Federal Circuit Court judges, earning more than Queensland Premier Annastacia ­Palaszczuk's $400,000 pay packet.

The Remuneration Tribunal gave Federal Circuit Court judges a bonus two weeks' holidays last year, boosting their annual leave from four to six weeks.

The judges can also "buy" up to four weeks' extra leave in return for a pay cut.

Justice ­Alstergren hit back at criticism over long court delays, ­declaring that family law ­judges were "incredibly hard-working'' and blaming a government go-slow in replacing judges who retired.

"The court acknowledges that having to wait years to have a family law dispute brought to resolution is unacceptable,'' he said.

"The judges must be commended for their extraordinary work ethic during the year and their dedication to dealing with their workload with efficiency.

"The court aims to finalise cases in a timely manner, but is mindful that family law cases are particularly difficult and emotional and the Family Court's decisions affect many lives, potentially for many years.''

In the Family Court, 38 per cent of cases have been stuck in the court for at least a year, although judges managed to clear through some of the backlog in 2018-19 for the first time.

In the FCC, one in five warring couples had to wait at least six months after the final hearing to get a judge's ruling on property and custody disputes.