Federal Circuit Court judge Guy Andrew (Image: AAP/Supplied)

Overnight brought the news that Federal Circuit Court judge Guy Andrew, missing for five days, had been found in bushland in western Brisbane.

Acknowledging the news, Family Court Chief Justice William Alstergren said the “tragic passing is a timely reminder of the extraordinary pressure on all who practise in the often highly emotive family law jurisdiction”.

Alstergren’s comments continue an ongoing theme for the profession: the sheer relentless pressure on judges.

Judges’ representative group the Judicial Conference of Australia (JCA) has asked for governments to adequately resource courts at all levels, and “in particular to appoint a sufficient number of judges to properly administer justice … without imposing an unreasonable workload on judges which may compromise their physical and mental health”.

This followed District Court judge Robyn Tupman warning that the pressure on judges in NSW could lead to a judge taking their own life.

Earlier this year a coronial inquiry into the death of magistrate Stephen Myall found he was “overworked and stressed”. Myall would often hear up to 90 cases a day. 

The JCA declined to comment this morning.

Last month, Andrew — who had been appointed Townsville’s full-time Federal Circuit Court judge — was transferred to Brisbane to receive “counselling” after his decision in a parenting and property settlement case was set aside. It was found that Andrew had subjected a solicitor in that case to treatment that was “hectoring, insulting, belittling, sarcastic and rude”.

Former Family Court of Australia chief justice and Federal Court justice Alastair Nicholson said that under-resourcing was a perpetual and long-term problem across courts in Australia.

“On the Supreme Court I was probably adequately resourced but judges in lower courts certainly weren’t,” he said. “And even if they had the right support, it was difficult due to the sheer volume of cases.

“The problem was governments would simply never appoint enough judges. They would always assume individual judges could handle it.”

He said it was a fundamental problem with governments of both stripes.

“The problem governments have with policy around the judiciary is they control it entirely via the budget, particularly if a court does its job and asserts its independence,” Nicholson said. “In my time that was particularly true under the Howard government, when the Family Court was particularly assertive of its independence on refugee cases, but it’s the kind of behaviour a court could encounter from any government.”

Funding cuts are combined with an ever-growing caseload. The NSW criminal courts dealt with 3023 more defendants in 2017 than the previous year (and 21,000 more than in 2013). Over the same period, the ABC reported a jump in the Victorian Magistrates’ Court caseload in the hundreds of thousands, with no attendant increase in magistrates.

Nicholson said that from what he could see the problem was not getting any better: “From my contact with people still involved, it appears that it’s obviously getting worse.”

For anyone seeking help, Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue is 1300 22 4636.