The Federal Government has been told that overcrowding at Newcastle Family Court is creating a volatile situation that invites acts of violence.
Newcastle's family court services half of New South Wales and has one of the highest rates of security breaches in the country.
Nine years ago, a man stabbed his wife outside the court.
Member for Newcastle Sharon Grierson says every year security guards deal with clients threatening to kill people, or trying to bring in weapons, "from syringes, to screwdrivers, to knives".
She says a new building is urgently needed because the current one does not have enough courts for hearings or room to separate people caught up in acrimonious disputes.
"Everyone is mixed in together in a volatile situation and that's one of the reasons that the security risk is so high," she said.
"People have loitered and tried to attack each other."
Family Court of Australia chief executive officer Richard Foster says a recent national review of court facilities identified Newcastle as a top priority.
"The design of the court doesn't meet contemporary standards and needs changing because people just don't feel safe going to court," he said.
Family lawyer Judith Olsen says the court is too crowded to interview clients in private.
"They have to sit there with the other person walking up and down in front of them, or sitting in close proximity staring at them," she said.
"I've seen people who are obviously very, very disturbed, or very, very distressed attempting to intimidate them.
"It is not a dignified surrounding for people's matters to be dealt with."
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Quote: Once again this is a clear admission by the court of what acrimonious disputes, divorce and family separation cause in terms of domestic violence. Overcrowding always causes problems no matter where you go even in prison. But in a sense it wouldn’t matter where you put the next family court or even how you designed the facility because the 'mood' would always be the same. Perhaps it’s the very 'idea' that causes the problem and not the court, facilities or design so much because no other Family Court would be immune?
Question: What can be done to reduce acrimonious disputes, divorce and family separation? Wouldn't that help fix the problem too? Prevention is better than cure.
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