Highlights

Infographic of highlights of 2014-15, see text below for description

Infographic of highlights of 2014-15, see text below for description

95,341 cases were litigated and divorce cases processed.

Migration continues to increase with 3896 applications processed.

75 per cent of court users surveyed are satisfied with their experience at the registries.

330,178 telephone calls were made to the National Enquiry Centre.

The Commonwealth Court Portal registrations increased by 43,773.

7807 applications were finalised in general federal law.

13 per cent of filings were referred to mediation.

70 per cent of matters were resolved before trial.

87 per cent of all final order applications in family law filed in 2014–15 were filed in the Federal Circuit Court.

The Federal Circuit Court circuits to 31 locations around Australia.

The courts have received 46,459 live chats since its launch.

A series of How do I? pages were developed to help self-represented litigants. See www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au

The year in review

Image of Chief Judge Pascoe AO CVO.
Chief Judge Pascoe AO CVO

From the Chief Judge

The past year has seen new challenges for the Federal Circuit Court. As foreshadowed in the Court's previous Annual Report, it has, for the first time in its relatively short history, had to manage the retirement of a significant number of judges. A total of nine judges left office during the past 12 months, representing some 15 per cent of the Court's judiciary. Not all of these retiring judges have been replaced. These delays in appointments have had a significant effect on the Court's capacity to deal with matters expeditiously, and waiting times for trials have increased significantly.

The primary focus of the Court continues to be on how best to meet the demands of its large and diverse caseload. In January 2015 the Court mandated the filing of a new Notice of Risk. This form is intended to assist in fulfilling legislative obligations in dealing with family violence in family law matters. Judges and senior officers of the Court have committed a significant amount of time to developing procedures which permit information sharing between the Court and state and territory welfare agencies. The impact of this new approach is currently the subject of detailed study. Early indications suggest that the Notice is making a positive contribution by focusing the mind of all parties to this important issue, and improving the sharing of data across state and federal boundaries. The cooperation of state and territory agencies in making this initiative successful is much appreciated.

The Court's caseload in migration continues to increase substantially. Over the past five years the number of migration filings has grown nearly four-fold. This is, in itself, a daunting amount of work and filings this financial year alone totalled nearly 3900. Following the passage of new legislation aimed at dealing with the tens of thousands of as yet unprocessed protection claims, the Court expects to see an even greater increase in filings. This will result in the Court facing an unprecedented volume of work in this jurisdiction. This workload cannot be met with the current judicial resourcing.

As part of its Reconciliation Action Plan commitment, the Court continues to engage with Indigenous communities across Australia. Registries now regularly conduct events to mark Reconciliation Week and this provides an important opportunity for the Court not only to acknowledge Indigenous communities, but to meet with them and share information about the family law system. Judges also participate in Indigenous family law conferences as a way of ensuring that community members and representatives of key community groups are fully informed about the options available to them when families are dealing with family breakdown.

The Court has continued its program of change under the International Framework for Court Excellence. A Mission Statement and Strategic Plan were being developed during the reporting period. In addition, policies on judicial education and health and wellbeing have been drafted. The Framework is a valuable source of guidance to the Court. I commend those members of the Court who have contributed their time to these initiatives.

Other key initiatives undertaken in the past year include the commissioning of a comprehensive information technology needs assessment and a survey of the Court's associates. These activities are both aimed at better informing the Court about key areas in the management of its workload. Understanding the volume and range of tasks undertaken in Chambers and enhancing the systems which underpin all aspects of case management are critical projects for the Court. The Court's judge-led case management approach means that Chambers are very much the centre of activity for judges of the Court. Our associates responded positively to the survey and its results are being analysed.

With regards to information technology, the Court will develop a comprehensive statement of requirements. This review was initiated by the Court because of the unique position of judges and staff who work across many different jurisdictions. Historically, all core functions relating to family law and general federal law including, importantly, case management systems, have been delivered by other courts. It is anticipated that this study will contribute to future system development and allow the delivery of technology services which meet the particular needs of the Court.

The Government has announced plans to merge the corporate services functions of all three federal courts. This change is expected to give rise to a single budget appropriation to fund the operations of all three courts. A significant amount of effort has been undertaken to date, and a considerable amount of further work will be needed to bring this plan into effect by the intended commencement date of 1 July 2016. Legislation is also required to bring about this reform. The Court's concern has been to ensure that the integrity of its work remains unaffected. Indeed, if it is to be successful, the effectiveness of the Court's work should be enhanced through this process.

Statistics at a glance

Table 1.1: Filings and finalisations in family law and general federal law

Family law Filings Finalisations
  2014–15 2013–14 2014–15 2013–14
Final orders 17,685 17,565 16525 16,931
Interim orders 21,112 20,298 20279 19,926
Divorce applications 45,593 43,634 43,132 42,828
Other 1990 1860 1808 1806
Total family law 86,380 83,357 81,744 81,491
General federal law Filings Finalisations
  2014–15 2013–14 2014–15 2013–14
Bankruptcy 3705 4285 3686 4010
Migration 3896 3208 3009 2264
Administrative 85 26 42 24
Admiralty 9 17 13 11
Consumer 42 62 47 74
Intellectual property 52 53 51 39
Human rights 87 79 80 93
Industrial 1085 935 879 793
Total general federal law 8961 8665 7807 7508

Note: Changes to previously published figures. The Court continually conducts data quality activities on its electronic case data. This is done to ensure that our case management system, as best as it can, reflects the information that is contained on the paper-based file. Due to the complex nature of the data captured, and the changing circumstances of the case, it is not unusual for data entries needing to be updated and refreshed. As a result of the activities in the past few years, the Court has decided to entirely refresh the historical data for the previous four years. This means that figures published in this report for historical years may not always be the same as those published in previous annual reports. Any changes in figures should be relatively insignificant.

Developments during 2014–15

National implementation of the Notice of Risk

In light of family violence amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 by way of the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2011, the Federal Circuit Court sought to identify means to better facilitate the early identification of risk in parenting matters when allegations are raised.

The prevalence of allegations of risk in proceedings is of particular significance for the Federal Circuit Court as most parenting applications are commenced in the Court.

Accordingly a new form, the Notice of Risk, was piloted by the Court in South Australia commencing in February 2013 ('the SA pilot') with an evaluation of that report being published on 18 September 2014. Following the recommendation of that evaluation, the Notice of Risk was implemented nationally.

From 12 January 2015 the Notice of Risk became a mandatory form for use in the Federal Circuit Court:

  • by any person who files an application or response seeking parenting orders on or after 12 January 2015, and
  • as the prescribed notice when allegations for the purposes of subsections 67Z(2) or 67ZBA(2) of the Family Law Act 1975 are raised on or after that date (instead of the Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence, or Risk of Family Violence (Form 4)).

The Notice of Risk represents a departure from the previously prescribed Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence, or Risk of Family Violence (Form 4) in that the Notice of Risk is required to be filed in all matters involving children rather than only in instances where allegations are made which attract the statutory requirements.

In addition to addressing risks which fall within the ambit of section 67Z and section 67ZBA, the Notice of Risk also addresses the general duty of the Court as required by section 69ZQ and aims to facilitate the identification of other risks which do not fall within the ambit of the notification provisions but which may be of relevance to the Court. The utility of a form which seeks to identify a wider range of risks will aid the effective early intervention case management pathway of the Federal Circuit Court.

Liaison with the Law Council of Australia

During the year the Federal Circuit Court and the Law Council of Australia Liaison Committee met twice. This Committee comprises the Chief Judge and other representatives from the Court with David Gaszner and others representing the Law Council of Australia. The Committee considers issues pertaining to the general federal law jurisdiction of the Court. In particular, the Committee considered issues such as:

  • judicial resourcing and funding
  • workload trends
  • jurisdiction and Court Rules
  • case management including panels and circuits
  • transfers between courts
  • self-represented litigants, and
  • issues surrounding fees.

Liaison with the Family Law Section Regional Committee

In addition to meeting regularly with the Family Law Section, the Court also continued its liaison with the Family Law Section Regional Committee. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss a range of activities with a particular focus on the Court's circuit program to rural and regional Australia.

The Family Law Section Regional Committee is made up of approximately 44 representatives from around Australia. Although not all attended the telephone links, practitioners were well represented on the occasions meetings were held. Discussions covered a range of matters including the practices associated with attendance at court by litigants and practitioners in remote locations by telephone.

Budgetary pressures

Over recent years, and in response to the emerging challenging financial position, the courts have separately, and as a combined entity, undertaken significant initiatives to reduce costs and generate efficiencies; however there are still significant financial pressures upon the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court.

Following consideration of various reviews into the courts' structural funding issues, the Government announced in its 2015–16 Budget that the following initiatives would be undertaken to assist the courts in funding their operations into the future:

  • the courts' fees would be raised to generate additional funding, part of which would be retained by the courts to assist in meeting future funding requirements
  • the efficiency dividend arrangements applied by Government to agency funding would be adjusted to recognise that judicial salaries were not a controllable cost of the courts
  • losses for 2015–16, 2016–17 and 2017–18 were approved, and
  • the courts' shared corporate service arrangements would be consolidated, effective 1 July 2016, into the Federal Court of Australia.

The initiatives below are expected to allow the courts to operate at their current activity levels and staffing in 2015–16. The resourcing plans for the consolidated shared service arrangements from 2016–17 will be finalised as part of the corporate consolidation process with the Federal Court of Australia.

Outlook for 2015–16

In 2015–16, the following may have an impact on the Court and its delivery of services:

  • the implementation of the Government's 2015–16 Budget decision to streamline the courts corporate shared services arrangements by consolidating these functions into the Federal Court of Australia from 1 July 2016. A significant amount of work and resources will be required in 2015–16 to prepare for this consolidation of services to ensure an efficient and effective transition is achieved
  • any Government decisions during the year that relate to the Australian Public Service employment arrangements
  • Government or other initiatives relating to dealing with family violence, and
  • ongoing work concerning the adoption of the International Framework for Court Excellence.

Strategic Initiatives in the Portfolio Budget Statements

International Framework for Court Excellence

The Federal Circuit Court of Australia has previously publicised its commitment to the International Framework for Court Excellence. Details on this framework can be found at www.courtexcellence.com

In 2014 the Court substantially consolidated its implementation of this framework by completing a survey of judges and allied staff in accordance with the Framework. The survey covered critical elements of the Court's performance including: leadership; policy and planning; resources; management of court processes; court user satisfaction; access and affordability; and public confidence.

Strategic Plan and Mission Statement

The Court has set in process the development of a strategic plan and mission statement, which will respond to priority matters identified through the International Framework for Court Excellence self-assessment exercise, and take into account the proposed reforms to administration of the federal courts.

Staff had their say

The staff of the Court participated fully in the court excellence assessment process. The most central finding was that staff generally enjoy their work and rate the work of the Court highly. The area for improvement identified in the staff surveys was a call for improved internal communication, or more precisely, better consultation and engagement about critical matters.

Court user satisfaction

A critical area of the framework is taking account of court user's views of their experience of registry services. In 2014, the courts undertook a second comprehensive court user satisfaction survey. This survey entailed face-to-face and online surveys of litigants, lawyers and others who attend the courts.

Over 75 per cent of those surveyed reported overall satisfaction with their experience at the registries. Users reported that they found staff professional and respectful, the processes of the courts fair and that the judges listened to their cases.

Areas for improvement included that more courts should start on time and litigants reported that they would like better information about what to expect when they attend court.

The results of the 2014 survey were, in many respects, similar to those reported in 2011. Significantly, the survey included detailed questions for litigants not represented by a lawyer. While those court users reported greater difficulty with some of the processes and procedures than those who are represented, their satisfaction with staff and with the courts overall, was not markedly different to those who are represented.

The Executive Director, Client Services, with the registry managers, has worked on this feedback by convening more regular two-way discussions with staff. One of the outputs of those processes is the Registry Services Delivery Strategy 2014–19 which sets out a vision for services to the public and to judges and is reflective of court excellence. See page 21 for more information on this strategy.

Access and Inclusion Framework for registry services

The Court will continue to develop and implement plans under its access and inclusion framework. The framework aims to ensure all clients, particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged clients, receive the assistance they need to access the Court.

The framework acknowledges that justice begins well before a litigant has their first court event, and that a client's capacity to participate in court processes is significantly influenced by the quality of information and the level of administrative support they receive.

Linking to the International Framework for Court Excellence, the framework also takes a broader view across the shared infrastructure needed to support the delivery of accessible services (e.g. information technology, training and performance development) as well as identifying the links, approaches, synergies and principles that affect justice as a whole.

The current plans under the framework are:

  • Multicultural Action Plan
  • Family Violence Plan
  • Reconciliation Action Plan, and
  • Mental Health Support Plan (to be developed).

The Court recognises that people do not neatly fit into a single target client group, hence the Court has tried to adopt a flexible model of service delivery that allows staff to tailor services to the individual's need.

Multicultural Action Plan 2014–16

The Multicultural Action Plan was developed in response to a Commonwealth Government requirement. As part of its development, the Court engaged Maria Dimopoulos of Myriad Consulting to undertake a comprehensive review of multicultural access and equity at the Court. The review's findings and recommendations have informed the projects currently being implemented under the plan.

The following provides highlights of the completed, ongoing and new work undertaken to improve access and equity for the Court's culturally and linguistically diverse clients. These have occurred in addition to work undertaken to improve services at a local registry level.

New projects
Let's Talk: Cultural Competence e-learning

Image showing the new Let's Talk cultural competency e-learning package.
The new Let's Talk cultural competence e-learning package

The Let's Talk cultural competence e-learning package provides staff with the knowledge, skills and awareness needed to work competently with culturally diverse clients across a range of service scenarios. Using a specifically built website, the package uses adult learning principles to deliver over two hours of training that combines text with videos, podcasts, TED talks, interactive scenarios, quizzes, reflection exercises and links. With the package now complete, staff will commence the online training in August 2015.

Commonwealth Courts Portal – plain language hover text

Through the use of hover text, family law terminology used on the Application for Divorce form on the Commonwealth Courts Portal is now accompanied by plain English definitions. Litigants are able to hover their mouse over a particular word to view a plain English explanation of its meaning. This project specifically targets litigants experiencing language barriers and unrepresented litigants.

The court forms available on the Portal also provide links to the Family Law Termfinder, a website which allows clients to search for plain English definitions for 400 commonly used family law terms and view translations, for these terms, into Arabic, Vietnamese, Spanish, Simplified and Traditional Chinese. Termfinder is a joint project between the Attorney-General's Department and Macquarie University.

Website rebuild – culturally and linguistically diverse client pages

Image of the culturally and linguistically diverse client landing page on the Federal Circuit Court website.
The culturally and linguistically diverse client landing page on the Federal Circuit Court website

The Court's new website (launched in May 2015) incorporates information and resources for culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) clients that will help them navigate the family law system and get the support they need. A landing page has been specifically designed for CaLD clients to provide a single and easy gateway to tailored information, forms, resources and links to relevant external support.

National Enquiry Centre (NEC) post-inquiry email

The post-telephone inquiry email, sent by the NEC to clients, now includes updated and improved links to support clients who require interpreters, those who need mental health support, Indigenous families, people experiencing family violence and individuals who need language assistance.

Forced marriage

Staff across the country participated in a workshop held by the Attorney-General's Department to raise awareness of forced marriage and trafficking issues for frontline officers who are likely to come into contact with people in, or at risk of, a forced marriage. The workshop included best-practice information on how to respond effectively to suspected cases of forced marriage, including information on the forced marriage legislative framework, key indicators and referral pathways. Staff are aware of the fact sheets and resources that were supplied at the workshops and copies are available for staff to access.

Ongoing work

There are a wide range of standard practices and policies that are specifically aimed to support CaLD clients and are continually reassessed and updated:

  • staff are skilled to organise and provide access to interpreter services
  • the Court's community language allowance encourages staff with language skills to develop and use their language skills with clients
  • all webpages and emails sent to clients provide a link to the LawTermFinder lawtermfinder.mq.edu.au, as a source of plain English and translated definitions of family law terms
  • through collaboration with the Department of Human Services (DHS), the judiciary and staff have access to DHS's online guide to ethnic naming practices which covers the naming conventions of 66 languages, including some from newly emerging Australian communities
  • registry staff refer CALD clients, where appropriate, to community support services, and
  • the Court participates in a range of Harmony Day activities including recognising outstanding contributions through Harmony Day Awards.
The NEC

To support CaLD clients, the NEC takes calls in other languages through the Telephone Interpreter Service. Further, they provide procedural information and legal referrals on a range of topics often relevant to CaLD clients such as getting documents translated, getting a divorce if you were married overseas, and information about using interpreters for court events. The NEC has ongoing involvement with the Forced Marriage Network through workshops and meetings. They also maintain a close working relationship with the Family Relationship Advice Line who are able to link CaLD clients, and others with specific support needs, to community and Government services.

Family Violence Plan 2014–16

Image of the Family Violence Plan 2014–16.
The Family Violence Plan 2014–16

Family violence remains widespread in Australia affecting adults and children who experience and or live in fear of it. It directly affects the physical and emotional wellbeing of families. The Court's family violence plan was developed in recognition of the importance of having a plan which sets out specific actions to support those experiencing, or at risk of, family violence.

New Projects
Safety at court

In Brisbane, staff worked with security personnel to ensure that clients who fear for their safety are able to access Child Dispute Services in a safe and secure manner. This removed previously existing ambiguity about how clients presented to security staff and steps to be taken.

Referrals to community and support organisations

All registries and the NEC provide contact details to litigants for community organisations including organisations that provide support to those experiencing, or at risk of, family violence.

Some registries have arrangements to provide onsite support. For example, through Domestic Violence NSW, the Women's Family Law Support Service is located onsite in the Sydney registry, and where appropriate, registry services staff advise clients of the service. In Adelaide, the SA Women's Information Service Court Support Program Volunteers assist women experiencing family violence at the Family Court.

Family Violence Screening Tool

During 2014, Child Dispute Services worked with the American authors of the Mediator's Assessment of Safety Issues and Concerns (MASIC) tool to develop a court specific family violence screening tool. Since April 2015, this tool has been piloted at the Melbourne and Brisbane registries, using a method in which parents complete and submit responses prior to their interview. Family consultants can then use an individual's responses to better target their examination of family violence risks during clinical interview.

Despite trialling alternate methods for family violence screening – which may or may not be adopted nationally – there are comprehensive professional directions for family consultants regarding the assessment of violence risks. These outline a clear, stepwise, and prescriptive process that clinical staff must undertake when addressing family violence during assessments.

Other activities

The physical layout, court listing practices and the use of safety plans are all designed to protect those who fear for their safety. When litigants have fears about attending a court appointment at the same time, or in the same room, as a former partner, safe rooms are available in many registries and provision can sometimes be made for separate entry and exit points for the client. Alternatively litigants may be able to attend by phone or by video. Court staff are skilled in developing safety plans and putting measures in place so assure a litigant's safety.

Registry staff in Adelaide revisited training in relation to the Federal Circuit Court Notice of Risk to ensure they were clear of the procedures to be undertaken when litigants requests forms and/or seek procedural information about applications where there are allegations of family violence, risk of family violence, child abuse and/or risk of child abuse.

In response to a change in the organisations contracted to provide security services to the courts, registries have provided Safety at Court training for the incoming security guards.

Reconciliation Action Plan

Image of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Law Pathways group.
Back row left to right: Ricky Welsh, Michelle Emeleus, (Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service, (QIFVLS)), Tom Corrie, CEO, QIFVLS, Juergen Kaehne (Aboriginal and Torress Strait Islander Legal Service Cairns, (ATSILS)), Judge Willis, Federal Circuit Court, Paula Neal, Manager, Women's Group Yarrabah. Middle row left to right: Samantha Byles, (North Queensland Women's Legal Service (NQWLS)), Jennifer Ekanayake, Family Law Director ASTILS. Front row left to right: Nikita Sellin, NQWLS intern, Aunty Josephine Akee AO, Aunty Jeanette Singleton, Traditional Owner, Yirrgandji

Further to the Court's Reconciliation Action Plan aspirations, Judge Josephine Willis, chair of the Court's Indigenous Access to Justice Committee with the assistance of the two community consultative members of the Committee, Rick Welsh and Aunty Josephine Akee, and also Samantha Byles gathered together various members of the ATSI community and lawyers in Cairns to establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Law Pathways group. Above is an image of this group.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice Committee

The committee, formed in 2013, continues to coordinate the Court's engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around Australia. Two Indigenous community consultant members were invited on to the committee this year, an Aboriginal man Rick Welsh from Sydney and a Torres Strait Islander woman Josephine Akee. These two members have provided invaluable assistance and perspective in the Court's endeavours to achieve its commitments under the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).

In registries around Australia, judges of the Court organised events to celebrate and mark National Reconciliation Week and also judges and their staff participated in NAIDOC week activities. A successful event was also held in the Adelaide registry. Judges and other court staff have assisted with the conduct of events through the Aboriginal and Family Law Pathways group in Sydney including Roadshows and the inaugural Aboriginal Family Law Pathways Conference in Sydney. In Cairns, the committee has planned and established an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Law Pathways group. All of this work has been with the help of the Indigenous Community Consultative members working with judges and staff. The committee is working on establishing further ATSI Family Law Pathways groups at other registries in Australia.

In early 2015 the committee submitted its first RAP Impact Measurement Questionnaire to Reconciliation Australia. The Chair of the committee also joined the Chief Justice of the Family Court's Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity during the year.

This follows on from a similar group established in Western Sydney by Judge Myers and Rick Welsh. Other judges on the committee are working towards forming such groups around Australia.

Federal Circuit Court Associates/Deputy Associates Survey

The Chief Judge established a committee to review and report on the resourcing needs of the Court with Judge Henderson as the Chair of that committee.

As a first step of this review, a survey was prepared for all associates and deputy associates to complete. This survey will be an important and useful tool in identifying the tasks being undertaken by chambers and gathering data on a range of issues regarding roles, induction, workload and work practices.

A total of 104 associates/deputy associates out of a possible 126 completed the survey. At the time of preparing the annual report the results were being collated to inform recommendations to be made by the committee.

Disability

Courts websites

The courts' new websites incorporate information and resources for people with a disability and their carers that will help them navigate the family law system and get the support they need. A 'landing page' has been specifically designed to provide a single and easy gateway to tailored information, forms, resources and links to relevant external support.

Ongoing work

There are a wide range of standard practices and policies that are specifically aimed to support people with disability. Hearing loops are provided in court proceeding for hearing impaired litigants, staff facilitate the presence of hearing dogs/ seeing eye dogs/ support animals in courtrooms. The Court supports Hearing Awareness Week each year.

Mental health

Image of the mental health client landing page on the Federal Circuit Court website.
The mental health landing page on the Federal Circuit Court website.

Through the development of a Mental Health Action Plan, the Court hopes to build on extensive work done previously on setting up processes, referrals, responses and supports needed to assist those who are mentally unwell or distressed.

The Court recognises that separation and divorce is stressful and that it has an obligation, through its practices, to support people wherever possible.

In previous training, staff were given skills in mental health first aid, on how to give appropriate initial help and support to someone experiencing a mental health issue. Further, the Court has in place a range of standard practices and policies that support people with mental health issues or who are experiencing emotional distress. Current practices include:

  • referral to community organisations that are able to provide counselling and mental health support during separation and divorce
  • protocols to get the right immediate assistance in situations where someone is threatening to harm themselves or others either in person or over the telephone
  • providing resources to clients about handling stress, and
  • the recent launch of a single landing page on the Court's new website for those with mental health and/or emotional support needs which links to a range of resources and support.

Enhancing service to court users through information technology

The courts are continuously seeking to enhance access to justice and to provide meaningful information necessary to advance litigation via their information technology systems. The courts' IT strategies include being attentive to the needs of those who live in regional Australia, those who have limited means, those who do not have legal representation, and those who may be disadvantaged as a result of violence or language or some other barrier to justice.

Ongoing improvement with the Commonwealth Courts Portal

Image of the Commonwealth Courts Portal logo.

The Commonwealth Courts Portal www.comcourts.gov.au, launched in July 2007, is a continuing initiative of the Federal Circuit Court, the Family Court and the Federal Court. The Portal provides free web-based access to information about cases that are before these courts.

After registering, lawyers and parties can keep track of their cases, identify documents that have been filed and view outcomes, orders made and future court dates. Users log on using a single user ID and access multiple jurisdictions from a single central web-based system.

A popular function of the Portal is the ability for users to elect to be notified of any recent activity on their files. In 2014–15 more than 250,000 such notifications were sent.

The eFiling functions continue to be expanded and a number of enhancements were made to the Portal, including:

  • a number of supplementary documents can now be eFiled
  • mandatory Notice of Risk has been added to Initiating Application and Initiating Application Response eForms to assist in identifying cases with a risk of family violence, and
  • a new function to allow members of the public to request a copy of their divorce certificate for divorces granted before implementation of the Commonwealth Courts Portal (certificates can be downloaded directly from the Portal for more recent divorces).

Work has also continued to ensure that the Commonwealth Courts Portal complies with version 2.0 Level 'AA' of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. In addition, a complete end-to-end usability review of the Portal was undertaken with a user experience expert advising on improved screen designs. Development of these screens is expected to commence in 2015–16.

The following statistics highlight the significant growth in the number of Portal users as at 30 June 2015:

  • 5943 firms now registered (up from 4900 at 30 June 2014)
  • lawyer registrations have increased to 12,007 (up from 10,000 at 30 June 2014), and
  • total registered users now at 196,865 (up from 153,092 at 30 June 2014).

Table 1.2: Registered users of the Commonwealth Courts Portal, 2011–12 to 2014–15

  30 June 2012 30 June 2013 30 June 2014 30 June 2015
Number of law firms registered 3280 4134 4965 5943
         
Number of lawyers registered 6746 8370 9921 12,007
Other users 75,306 105,604 138,206 184,858
Total registered users 85,332 118,108 153,092 196,865

Table 1.3: Documents eFiled in the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court 2011–12 to 2014–15

  2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15
Adelaide 4912 7121 8927 10,797
Albury 501 802 1114 1695
Alice Springs 109 136 70 84
Brisbane 27,379 35,666 41,609 48,362
Cairns 1076 1350 1918 2619
Canberra 2004 2914 3420 4160
Coffs Harbour 863 1000 1452 1757
Dandenong 5331 7594 9251 10,339
Darwin 359 519 822 1071
Dubbo 363 660 874 1257
Hobart 562 700 1001 1255
Launceston 734 876 902 976
Lismore 1109 1672 2274 2658
Melbourne 19,329 31,650 37,747 45,774
Newcastle 4724 6700 8734 11,469
Parramatta 7736 11,101 13,441 17,729
Rockhampton 746 1311 1664 1909
Sydney 10,466 15,372 18,998 23,925
Townsville 2115 2787 2904 3758
Wollongong 1444 2352 3341 4004
Total 91,862 132,283 160,463 195,598

In Western Australia there were 7460 documents eFiled during 2014–15.

Major Casetrack enhancement

Casetrack is the courts' case management system introduced in 2002. A major enhancement is currently underway to improve its useability. The changes will introduce new and updated functionality, including a modern browser-based technology that provides a simplified approach to managing the work done in chambers and in other areas of the courts' operations. The first new module was implemented in March 2014 and was specifically designed to simplify the way chambers manage their dockets. Development of additional functionality continued during 2014–15.

Introduction of the electronic court file in general federal law

Since the first quarter of 2015, all new general federal law matters filed are created as an electronic court file (ECF). An electronic court file means files will be wholly created, managed and stored electronically. Paper files are no longer created. The transition from paper-based to digital court files means information is easily retrieved and searched. ECFs eliminate the opportunities for lost or incomplete paper files and give immediate access to the court file and the documents on it by different authorised people within the Court at the same time. For court users, it increases the range of documents available for view by authorised users on the Commonwealth Court's Portal and stamped orders will be available instantly.

Court Initiatives

Live Chat

Image of the courts live chat logo.

Live Chat was launched on the courts' websites in April 2014.

Live Chat is a cost effective and easily manageable channel of communication. Staff can multi-task and manage up to four conversations at once and it also provides a convenient way for clients to access the courts and engage with client service officers.

Since its launch, the courts have received 46,459 live chats.

Live Chat key statistics

  • 187 live chats per day.
  • 27 per cent of questions are about Portal support
  • 73 per cent are general questions
  • the most popular questions are about applying for a divorce and parenting applications.

Live Chat is available during business hours and can be accessed from the homepages of: www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au, www.familycourt.gov.au and www.comcourts.gov.au

YouTube

Image of the YouTube logo

The Court's YouTube channel provides information to clients in a different way to the usual form or fact sheet. Videos currently available include:

  • Court Tour
  • File your application online with the Commonwealth Courts Portal, and
  • How to apply for a divorce: serving divorce papers.

Visit the Federal Circuit Court's YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/federalcircuitcourt

Online proof of divorce

An online proof of divorce request process was introduced to streamline the process for people wanting to obtain a copy of their divorce order from the courts. The process involves a person completing an online interactive form and submitting payment online by credit card. The Court then provides an original copy of the divorce.

The new process has been very successful and to date 2454 requests have been made since the online interactive from was introduced on 28 March 2015.

The new process has also streamlined the process for the courts in reducing the amount of back office paperwork and time to process the requests.

Registry waiting times

Data from the courts' client queue management system concerning client service waiting times and the number of clients waiting for service at registry counters is transferred to the courts' websites.

This provides lawyers and litigants with a view of wait times in the registry in real time. It informs lawyers and litigants about the best time to visit registries, when demand is lower and they are likely to spend less time waiting. It also assists registry staff in providing a better client service.

This is a small, low cost initiative aimed at improving customer service, providing better visibility for litigants and lawyers regarding wait times, and using our existing resources efficiently and effectively by spreading demand across business hours.

Counter waiting times are available for the Adelaide, Brisbane, Dandenong, Melbourne, Parramatta and Sydney registries.

Intranet upgrade

Significant progress on the intranet upgrade has been made, however due to limited resources and realignment of priorities, the intranet upgrade project has been delayed and the new intranet is yet to be launched. The intranet will, however, benefit from a number of lessons learned from the website redevelopment.

There was a change of scope for the intranet search requirement to include enterprise search which has now been implemented and provides the intranet with enhanced search capabilities across multiple platforms.

Work still to be done includes:

  • completion of content migration – to date over 5000 content items have been migrated
  • undertake quality assurance of content, and
  • resolve a small number of outstanding technical issues.

It is expected that the intranet launch will take place in 2015–16.

Registry Services Delivery Strategy 2014–19

Registry managers met in May 2014 to develop a service delivery strategy for 2014–19.

The strategy, which is reviewed annually, focuses on the courts' priorities over a five year period.

Key initiatives in the strategy include:

  • provide services that can be easily used via a range of pathways (live chat, portal, website, phone and counter) with 24/7 access via the portal and website
  • adapt our services to the needs of court users, and empower them to prepare and manage their cases
  • provide timely and high level support to the judiciary of both courts
  • ensure that our staff are adding value by being knowledgeable, well trained and courteous
  • provide user-friendly forms, simplified processes and accurate, up-to-date information, provide technologically innovative solutions such as the electronic court file
  • maintain up-to-date user-friendly websites that effectively meet the needs of litigants, lawyers and the public
  • develop a range of innovative online services such as lodgment of consent orders and divorce applications and enable payments
  • make available a range of services provided by staff with the training and experience to show empathy for clients in a challenging period of their lives, and
  • provide face-to-face assistance to litigants who have special needs and/or require greater levels of support.

Projects that will be gradually introduced over the next few years include:

  • an electronic court file that integrates the needs of the judiciary, increases accessibility for litigants and lawyers and minimises administrative overheads
  • a 'virtual registry' that enables lawyers to leverage their own systems to access all the court-related information they need, as well as enabling them to initiate applications, make payments and complete all of their transactions with the courts online
  • specialised counter and telephone services for litigants who are unable to find the information they need, or complete the relevant transactions online, and
  • training to ensure our staff are able to help litigants, lawyers and the judiciary derive maximum benefit from the gradual introduction of new technologies.

Projects that will be further explored over the next few years include:

  • a smart phone/tablet application designed to facilitate access to specific services such as fee payments and event reminders
  • utilisation of social networking tools to provide users with current information about registry services
  • partnerships with State and Commonwealth agencies designed to enhance and streamline the provision of services in rural and regional Australia, and
  • a move to a model of registry service where the legal profession interacts with the courts by electronic means.

At the first annual review, the Executive Director, Client Services advised that the strategy remained current and that many of the identified projects were well advanced, including the cashless registry, eDivorce, eConsent and the registry services Wiki.

How do I?

Image of the How do I section on the Family Court website.
The How do Is section is designed to help self-represented litigants through the common court processes.

In conjunction with the launch of the Court's new website, a series of new How do I? pages have been developed. These include How do I?

  • Apply for a divorce
  • Serve a divorce
  • Serve a divorce by hand
  • Serve a divorce by post
  • Prove I am divorced
  • Apply to the Court for a dispensation of service or substituted service order when I cannot find the respondent to serve the application for divorce
  • Apply for parenting orders
  • Apply for property and financial orders
  • Apply to the Court when parenting orders have been breached or not complied with
  • Serve an initiation application
  • Electronically file an application, and
  • Register for the Commonwealth Courts Portal.

The How do Is are designed to help self-represented litigants through the common court processes by providing a step-by-step guide, related links and frequently asked questions.

These can be accessed through the homepage of the Court's website at www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au

IBM Connections

Connections has continued to provide a forum for planning activities and projects as well as supporting communication and collaboration across the courts.

Key achievements in 2014–15 include:

  • growth in the number of communities from 143 at 30 June 2014 to 150 at 27 May 2015
  • increased use of wikis in providing a centralised platform to share information. There are currently 119 wikis totalling 2357 pages. To date they have been utilised as knowledge bases for professional development, procedures and training materials as well as supporting day-to-day operations across the courts. Examples include:
    • a client service wiki which has been developed to support the work of the National Enquiry Centre
    • the development of a wiki aimed to support Registry Services staff by providing improved access to procedures and processes. The wiki will provide a platform for registry services staff to share knowledge and best practice ideas
  • increased use of Blogs as a communication tool within teams and communities. There are currently 92 blogs across the courts.

Infrastructure improvements

During 2014–15 a number of changes and upgrades were made to the courts' IT infrastructure to meet the courts' needs and improve performance and stability.

Infrastructure improvements in the financial year included:

  • all of the courts' Blackberry devices were replaced with Apple iPhones
  • new laptops were purchased to replace the courts' laptop fleet
  • a new Wide Area Network (WAN) was implemented to deliver increased bandwidth to all court registries
  • migration to a new Internet Gateway was completed
  • modelling showed potential weaknesses in the courts' database servers, so these were upgraded to cope with increased load as the courts move towards an Electronic Court File
  • a trial of technology on the Bench commenced, with a view to understanding options for providing information electronically to judges sitting in court
  • recording functionality was added to the courts' videoconferencing system to allow recording of presentations for later viewing, and
  • IT infrastructure was installed in new premises in Sydney and Darwin.

Court tour goes interactive

Image of the Court Tour on the Court's YouTube channel.
The court tour aims to assist self-represented litigants who have a matter in front of a judge or registrar

In December 2014 the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court added a new video-based court tour to their YouTube channels. The video has been developed for self-represented litigants who have a matter in front of a judge or registrar.

The court tour covers important areas such as:

  • preparing for court
  • how to speak to court officers and members of the judiciary
  • what to expect in the courtroom
  • court orders, and
  • feeling safe in court.

To view the court tour, go to youtube.com/user/federalcircuitcourt

Independent Children's Lawyers conference

The Children's Committee of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Family Court of Australia, and the Family Court of Western Australia, in conjunction with National Legal Aid and the Family Law Section, held the inaugural national conference for Independent Children's Lawyers in Sydney in October 2014.

The conference attracted over 140 delegates, with keynote speakers including Justice Colin Forrest (Family Court), Chief Judge Pascoe (Federal Circuit Court) and Chief Judge Thackray (Family Court of Western Australia).

Key topics discussed included children's participation; initiatives to support ICL practices; keeping children safe; ethical jeopardy and how it works; and honouring the role.

Family law registries cashless from 1 July 2015

Image of the courts' cashless poster.

A proposal to remove cash payments was first presented to the Chief Executive Officer's Management Advisory Group in 2005, however was not supported at that time due to other priorities. The significant technological advances in recent years, particularly in card payments and e-lodgment, provided the impetus for the courts' administration to reconsider the issue, including considering the removal of cheque payments, which aligns with the Registry Services Delivery Strategy 2014–19.

Prior to proceeding, approximately 80 per cent of respondents to a survey question indicated they would be unaffected by the removal of cash and cheques. Specifically, by increasing the number of processes that can be completed online, additional resources can be available for tailored face-to-face services. Additionally, the courts identified that the removal of cash and cheque payments from registries offered significant reductions in direct and indirect costs, and would reduce the risk to staff health and safety resulting from cash management.

In 2014 an implementation plan for eliminating cash and cheque payments was developed. After consultation with internal and external stakeholders, a two stage approach was developed. Stage one involved the removal of cash payments from registries from 1 July 2015. This change was communicated to the general public and the legal profession through the websites and signage from March 2015.

Stage two involves consultation with the legal profession about eliminating cheques from early 2016. The administration has made a formal representation to the Family Law Section of the Law Council and will advance the concept with the legal profession informally at meetings and other forums during 2015. The administration will also continue to develop online payment options to assist law firms and clients to transition to a cashless and chequeless environment.

New websites deliver improved access to court services

Image of the homepage of the Federal Circuit Court website.
The new Federal Circuit Court website was launched on 29 May 2015

The Federal Circuit Court website www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au and the Family Court website www.familycourt.gov.au have been upgraded and rebuilt, with the new websites officially launched on 29 May 2015.

The Family Law Courts website, www.familylawcourts.gov.au, was decommissioned at that time with content moved onto the Federal Circuit Court website. Links to the Family Law Courts website have been redirected to either the Federal Circuit Court or Family Court website.

The upgrade was a significant project which was in response to changes in requirements and expectations by the Government, practitioners and the general public.

The new design and layout of the websites reflects best practice for web design and incorporates feedback from a sample of key stakeholders.

The new websites deliver improved access to court services, better structured information, an easy to follow navigation and a greater focus on e-services. The websites provide specific site areas for those parts of the community who have special requirements. In addition, they will provide a translation and read back facility in multiple languages in the coming months.

To provide feedback email enquiries@familylawcourts.gov.au

Seventh International Courts Administration Conference

Image of a poster promoting the International Courts Administration Conference.

In September 2014 the International Association for Court Administration's (IACA), Seventh International Conference took place in Sydney with over 40 countries represented and more than 250 delegates attending, including staff and members of the judiciary of both the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court.

This year's conference was titled International Perspectives on Justice Administration 10 years on... and provided delegates with a unique opportunity to meet and collaborate with court administrators from around the world.

Chief Executive Officer of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court and outgoing President of IACA, Richard Foster said 'The discussions that took place over the three days of the conference will go a long way to enhancing and improving the delivery of court services and access to justice around the world'.

A range of court administrators, international judicial members and academics presented on topics including succession planning in court administration, access to justice for vulnerable groups and building and sustaining public confidence through communication strategies and social media.

IACA's international conferences are held every two years. The next conference will be held in the US or UK.

Mobile application and booths in registries

Image of a woman using the iRefer Vic app.
iRefer provides a directory of programs and services for families experiencing separation

A free mobile app – called iRefer Vic – launched in 2014, provides users with a searchable directory of programs and services that are available to families experiencing separation.

The app, developed by the Victorian Family Law Pathways Network, provides people with information that will complement, supplement or pre-empt agreements made by parties, or orders of the courts. It provides information and referral pathways to services that avoid conflict in the courtroom, or continuing conflict at home, with services grouped into categories such as counselling, family dispute resolution and mental health services.

In addition to the iRefer app, Victorian Family Law Pathways, with the support of the courts, have established booths, staffed by law students, in the Melbourne and Dandenong registries to assist litigants with referral/ contact details to external legal services.

Community relationships and consultation

Registry managers of the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court assist the Court with community relationship building. Much of this work is done at the local level. Engagement with local communities, community-based organisations concerned with family support and the family law system, community forums, law societies, family law pathway networks, volunteer networks and other government agencies, including many at the State level, are something that the Court has been reporting in some detail in recent years in an appendix to the annual report.

The reporting shows that different registries take different approaches, reflecting local needs and opportunities and capacity for action. Activities are highlighted in Appendix H.

Singapore Delegation

Image of Judge Baumann and the Chief Justice of Singapore.
Judge Baumann and the Chief Justice of Singapore

In July 2014 Judge Baumann, National Coordinator of Case Management, Adele Byrne, Principal Registrar, and Steve Agnew, Executive Director of Operations hosted a delegation from the Family Court in Singapore. The delegates from Singapore included a Senior District Judge, two District judges, the Deputy Director of the Family Court and the Assistant Director of the Counselling and Psychological Department.

As the Family Court of Singapore was implementing a docket system, the delegates were particularly interested in, and discussions focused on, the Federal Circuit Court's judge-led case management approach and philosophy of the docket system, case management innovations, and workflow and listing practices. Data management and report preparation was also discussed between the delegates and Federal Circuit Court representatives.

Judge Altobelli also met with the delegates to discuss the interaction between the Court and social workers including issues of confidentiality.

In September 2014, Judge Baumann travelled to Singapore to provide further assistance and guidance in the implementation of a docket system, presenting to both internal court users and external stakeholders including the local legal profession.