The gradual resumption of face-to-face hearings in the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia will commence from Monday 15 June 2020 for trials and hearings that cannot be conducted electronically.
Strict social distancing and capacity requirements that align with Government requirements and advice from specialist safety consultants, will be adhered to and are outlined in the Courts’ Face-to-Face Protocol. The key points of the face-to-face protocol include:
- Hearing times will be staggered;
- There will be strict social distancing requirements implemented in all common areas and courtrooms;
- In courtrooms, no written appearances are to be provided to Associates. Appearances are to be orally announced at the start of the hearing;
- No hardcopy documents are to be passed up during the hearing; an electronic court book is to be used where possible;
- No more than 8 people plus court staff and a judicial officer are allow in the courtroom at any one time without leave of the judge;
- Witnesses who are not parties will be required to leave the courtroom after giving evidence;
- All present are encouraged to download and activate the COVID-19 app. Those who choose not to will be requested (not required) to provide their names and contact details for contact tracing requirements only if the Courts are required to provide that information to the health authorities if an outbreak occurs;
- Practitioners and parties will not be able to go to other floors in the Court Registry save for the entrance and the floor their courtroom is located on, and should exit the Registry building promptly after the conclusion of their hearing.
The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Hon Will Alstergren said, “Whilst the Courts have been able to conduct over 80% of their work via electronic hearings since March 2020, it is recognised that there are some proceedings that require a hearing in person. Given the health concerns and social distancing requirements, a full utilisation of courtrooms may take some months as restrictions are eased.
“I am grateful to the profession for their support in assisting people with their disputes and for quickly adapting to the Courts’ change of operations over the past few months.
“Most importantly, I reiterate statements previously made in which I assured the public that the Courts’ judges and staff will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that work can continue and Australian families are supported.”