The Federal Circuit Court of Australia was established by the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999 formerly the Federal Magistrates Act) and its jurisdiction at inception was conferred by the Federal Magistrates (Consequential Amendments) Act 1999. These Acts received royal assent on 23 December 1999.
The Court is an independent federal court under the Australian Constitution. It is a federal court of record and a court of law and equity. Under section 8 of the FCC Act the Court is constituted by the Chief Judge and judges as appointed. Judges are appointed under the Act as justices in accordance with Chapter III of the Australian Constitution. The first applications made in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia were filed on 23 June 2000 and the Court’s first sittings were conducted on 3 July 2000 in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Newcastle, Parramatta and Townsville.
The establishment of the Federal Circuit Court marked a change in direction in the administration of justice at the federal level in Australia. Australia had not previously had a lower level federal court, although a considerable amount of federal law work had been done in state and territory courts of summary jurisdiction under the provisions of the Judiciary Act. The Court’s creation was an exciting development in the federal court structure. In a presentation to the 13th Commonwealth Law Conference, Melbourne 2003, Chief Justice of the High Court, Murray Gleeson said,
The Court deals with shorter and simpler matters in federal jurisdictions, and, in the short time since it was created, it has become even more apparent that there is a great deal of work suitable for its attention…I expect that, in time, it will become one of Australia's largest courts.
The Court was established to provide a simple and accessible alternative to litigation in the Federal Court of Australia (Federal Court) and the Family Court of Australia (Family Court) and to relieve the workload of those courts. The FCC Act directs the Court to operate informally and to use streamlined procedures. This complements the Parliament’s initiatives to encourage people to engage in a range of dispute resolution processes.
The Court is committed to providing access to justice to the people of Australia. The Court’s expansive regional circuit network is demonstrative of this commitment. Judges regularly travel to various regional locations to hear matters, alleviating the burden on regional litigants (and their legal representatives) to travel to major cities to have their matters dealt with. The Federal Circuit Court is the only federal court that regularly conducts regional circuits. The Court’s commitment to the provision of access to justice for all Australians is further illustrated by its ability to conduct special sittings in most regions of Australia on demand.
The Court also has a continuing commitment to finalise matters promptly and efficiently. During 2007–08, 85.9 per cent of matters were finalised within six months and 95.8 per cent of family law matters filed in the Court were finalised within 12 months. In the general federal law jurisdiction, 73.1 per cent finalised within six months and 91.1 per cent were finalised within 12 months.
The jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit Court has grown since its inception and broadly includes family law and child support, administrative law, admiralty law, bankruptcy, copyright, human rights, industrial law, migration, privacy and trade practices. The court shares those jurisdictions with the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Court of Australia. Some work in those jurisdictions continues to be done in state and territory courts also.
Since its establishment, the range and volume of cases heard by the court has substantially increased, confirming the Court’s role in Australia's federal judicial system. The Court deals with approximately 95% of migration and bankruptcy applications filed in the federal courts. Approximately 90% of the court's workload is in the area of family law. Five years ago, the Court dealt with 40% of all family law matters filed in the federal courts (excluding Western Australian family law matters). This has increased to nearly 80%.
The Fair Work (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 2009 included miscellaneous amendments to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999 to establish two divisions within the Federal Circuit Court, a Fair Work division and a general division. As from 1 July 2009 proceedings in the Court must be instituted, heard and determined in one of these divisions.
The Fair Work Act Fair Work (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Act 2009 and the Fair Work (State Referral and Consequential and Other Amendments) Act 2009 respectively provide similarly in respect of matters arising under the continuing operation of the pre-July 2009 Workplace Relations Act 1996 and the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act 2005. The general division will hear and determine all matters which are not required to be exercised in the Fair Work division.
Administration and management of the Court
The court is responsible for administering its own affairs and in the management of those affairs the Chief Judge is assisted by the Chief Executive Officer. The first Chief Judge and Chief Executive Officer were appointed in February and March 2000 respectively. The current Chief Judge is John Pascoe and the Chief Executive Officer is Richard Foster.