Quarterly Essay 17: ‘Kangaroo Court’
Family Law in Australia
by John Hirst
The Family Court was a progressive reform of the 1970s. Now it is perhaps the most hated institution in Australia. In 'Kangaroo Court', John Hirst investigates what went wrong.
This is a measured yet unsparing appraisal which interleaves individual cases with compelling legal and moral argument. Hirst takes us deep into the workings of the Court and the domestic apocalypses it sees every day.
He explores the Court's fervour to uphold the best interests of the child no matter what and traces its chilling consequence: a court where malicious allegations regularly go unpunished. He notes the Court's enormous power over individual lives, as well as its self-proclaimed status as a 'caring court', and wonders at its ability to overlook the defiance of its own authority. In closing, he considers how to reform an institution that has bred antagonism and extremism and too often entrenched paranoia and despair. Lucid and urgent, 'Kangaroo Court' is a cautionary tale about the perils of high-mindedness when it comes to dealing with the breakdown of families.
‘When Family Court judges talk piously of the 'caring court', I wish they could hear the roar of pain that their piety has caused.’ —John Hirst, ‘Kangaroo Court’
‘An Emile Zola-style pamphlet of accusation against our family law system which shatters the court’s last remaining intellectual pretensions to self-defence.’ —Herald Sun
John Hirst is a widely respected historian and social commentator. A former reader in history at La Trobe University, he is a member of the Film Australia board and the National Museum council. He is the author of numerous books, including The Australians: Insiders and Outsiders on the National Character since 1770, Freedom on the Fatal Shore: Australia’s First Colony, Sense and Nonsense in Australian History, The Shortest History of Europe and Australian History in 7 Questions.
- Schwartz Publishing Pty. Ltd, March 2005
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