The Court's performance

Portfolio Budget Statements Outcome and Program

The Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia were merged into a single non-Corporate Commonwealth Entity under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 from 1 July 2013, known as the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court.

The outcome and program framework of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court sets out the entity's commitments to the Government. Each year, details of the framework are outlined in the Portfolio Budget Statements, along with relevant performance information. Government outcomes are the intended results, impacts or consequences of actions by the Government on the Australian community. Entities deliver programs that are government actions taken to deliver the stated outcomes. Entities are required to identify the programs that contribute to government outcomes over the Budget and forward years.

Outcome

The outcome of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court is described below.

Provide access to justice for litigants in family and federal law matters within the jurisdiction of the courts through the provision of judicial and support services.

Program

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court has a single program under which all services are provided:

Family Court and Federal Circuit Court

The program objectives for the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court are managed via three separate components:

  1. Family Court of Australia
    • The objective of the Family Court of Australia is to support Australian families involved in complex family disputes by deciding matters according to the law, promptly, courteously and effectively. This involves:
      • providing decisions in complex family disputes for separating Australian couples and families through the determination of matters, and
      • providing national coverage as the appellate court in family law matters.
  2. Federal Circuit Court of Australia
    • The objective of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia is to provide a simple and accessible alternative to litigation in the Family Court and Federal Court.
    • Where practical, parties are encouraged to resolve their disputes through dispute resolution and negotiation methods.
  3. Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Administration
    • The objective of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Administration is to assist the courts to achieve their stated purpose by:
      • maintaining an environment that enables judicial officers to make determinations
      • providing effective and efficient registry services
      • effectively and efficiently managing resources, and
      • providing effective information and communication technologies.

Annual Performance Statement

Judicial services

Introductory statement

I, Warwick Soden, as the accountable authority of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, present the 2015–16 annual performance statements of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, as required under paragraph 39(1)(a) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act). In my opinion, these annual performance statements are based on properly maintained records, accurately reflect the performance of the entity, and comply with subsection 39(2) of the PGPA Act.

[Signed in the hard copy]
 

WG Soden
Principal Registrar and Chief Executive Officer
Federal Court of Australia

Federal Circuit Court of Australia purpose

  • The objective of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia is to provide a simple and accessible alternative to litigation in the Family Court and Federal Court.
  • Where practical, parties are encouraged to resolve their disputes through dispute resolution and negotiation methods.

Results

Performance criterion

Although a single entity for the purposes of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013, the Federal Circuit Court of Australia remains a separate Chapter III court under the Australian Constitution and the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) applicable to the Court are identified in the 2015–16 Portfolio Budget Statements and in the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Corporate Plan 2015–2019.

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court has one outcome and one program on which it reports in 2015–16. See Table 3.1.

Table 3.1: The outcome and program of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court
Outcome 1 Provide access to justice for litigants in family and federal law matters within the jurisdiction of the courts through the provision of judicial and support services.
Program 1.1 Family Court and Federal Circuit Court

Whilst the Court's reporting is for the single program, reporting information is provided in two streams:

  • judicial services (maintaining an environment that enables judicial officers to make determinations), and
  • registry services (provision of effective and efficient registry services).

The Court uses this approach to provide clearer reporting of its performance against its KPIs.

The first part of this chapter discusses the performance of judicial services in 2015–16. The registry services performance statement and associated information can be found on page 84.

The Court has three judicial services key performance indicators (KPIs):

  • finalising 90 per cent of final order applications within 12 months of filing
  • finalising all applications other than final order applications within six months of filing, and
  • resolving 70 per cent of matters without a trial.

Criterion source

  • Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Corporate Plan 2015–2019.
  • Component 1.1.1 key performance indicators, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Portfolio Budget Statements 2015–16.

Result against performance criterion

The Court met one of the three KPIs (resolving 70 per cent of matters without the need of a trial).

The Court failed to complete 90 per cent of final order applications within 12 months. The performance was affected by a range of factors including reduced judicial capacity through illness and the retirement of a number of judges throughout the 2014–15 and 2015–16. The impact of a higher level of migration filings has also affected the Court's capacity in family law. A number of recent new appointments to the Court will assist in achieving the KPIs in 2016–17.

The Court fell just short of meeting the KPI of finalising all other applications other than final orders within six months, achieving 89 per cent.

The Court has continued to develop and maintain strategies to achieve this KPI including:

  • the use of a national relief roster whereby judges of the Court allocate one week annually to assist in locations where judges are ill or in locations requiring assistance and the continued development of operational reports to enable the Court to better understand its workload
  • attention to accuracy of data entry to ensure that the true position of the Court is reflected in statistical and operational reports
  • the ongoing review of the Court's oldest active cases with a view to ensuring an understanding of any reasons for delay and developing strategies for managing older cases, and
  • case management judges work together on improving the performance of the Court on a national and regional basis.
Table 3.2: Key performance indictors – judicial services, 2015–16
Judicial Service KPIs Performance
The time taken from filing to disposition of final order applications is less than 12 months in 90 per cent of cases In 2015–16, 70 per cent of all final order applications (family law) were completed within 12 months
The time taken from filing to disposition in all applications other than applications for final orders is less than six months In 2015–16, 89 per cent of all applications (family law and general federal law) were completed within six months
Performance goal: 70 per cent of matters are resolved before trial In 2015–16, 70 per cent of matters were resolved before trial

Analysis of performance against purpose

Summary of workload 2015–16

Table 3.3 shows the summary workload during 2015–16.

Table 3.3: Family law and general federal law applications filed, 2015–16
Family law Total % of total
Final orders 17,523 19
Interim orders 21,521 23
Divorce 44,098 47
Other 1778 2
Total family law 84,920 91
General federal law Total % of total
Bankruptcy 3874 4
Migration 3537 4
Industrial 972 1
Other 272 0
Total general federal law 8655 9
Grand Total 93,575 100%

Figure 3.1: Family law and general federal law applications filed, 2015–16

Figure 3.1: Family law and general federal law applications filed, 2015-16
 

Figure 3.2: Case management approach (docket system)

Figure 3.2: Case management approach (docket system)
 

Case management

The Court uses a docket case management process designed to deal with applications in a flexible and timely way. The docket case management process has the following principles:

  • matters are randomly allocated to a judge who generally manages the matter from commencement to disposition, this includes making orders about the way in which the matter should be managed or prepared for hearing, and
  • matters in areas of law requiring expertise in a particular area of jurisdiction are allocated to a judge who is a member of the relevant specialist panel.

The docket case management system provides the following benefits:

  • consistency of approach throughout the matter's history
  • the judge's familiarity with the matter results in more efficient management of the matter
  • fewer formal directions and a reduction in the number of court appearances
  • timely identification of matters suitable for dispute resolution, and
  • allows issues to be identified quickly and promotes earlier settlement of matters.

Specialist panel arrangements

The Court has specialist panels in areas of general federal law and child support which ensure that matters of a specialist legal nature are allocated to judges with expertise in that particular area of the Court's jurisdiction. Specialist panel members meet regularly with user groups and judicial colleagues from other courts to respond to issues of practice and procedure in these specialist jurisdictions.

The following panels support the work of the Court:

  • Commercial (including consumer, intellectual property and bankruptcy)
  • Migration and administrative law
  • Human rights
  • Industrial law
  • National security
  • Admiralty law, and
  • Child support.

The panel arrangements equip the Court with the ability to effectively utilise judicial resources in specialist areas of family and general federal law. They are an essential element of continuing judicial education within the Court.

Report on work in family law

The Court undertakes 86 per cent of all family law work at the federal level in comparison to 87 per cent in 2014–15. Family law comprises the largest proportion of the Court's workload, representing 91 per cent of the overall workload.

Although the family law workload has remained relatively stable in terms of the number of applications filed, research suggests that there is an increase in the proportion of families with complex needs involving violence, mental health and/or substance addiction or a co-occurrence of these risk factors who are appearing before the Court.

Given the high incidence of allegations of child abuse and family violence in family law proceedings, the Court welcomes the increasing focus on the interaction of the family law and the child protection system. The intersection of the two systems has been highlighted during the year in the following:

From the perspective of a court which deals with most parenting applications, many of which involved allegations of risk, the early identification and triaging of cases involving risk is critical. Judicial-led docket management facilitates early intervention, but the assessment of risk is aided by timely exchange of information, and the availability of resources such as family consultants.

To aid early identification, the Notice of Risk has been mandated to accompany all parenting applications (and responses to such applications) filed in the Court. In the Federal Circuit Court the Notice of Risk is the prescribed form for those notifications which are required under the Family Law Act to be sent to the child protection authorities.

Since the 2012 family violence amendments to the Family Law Act, there has been a significant increase in the number of Notices of Risk sent to the child protection authorities. While there are local variations, the data indicates that nationally, 47 per cent of all parenting applications filed in the Federal Circuit Court are referred to child protection authorities. This is consistent with research highlighting the extent to which risks are alleged in parenting matters. The Notice of Risk also acts as a broad risk screening tool beyond child abuse and family violence, with questions enquiring about other risks to a child arising from mental ill health, abuse of drugs or alcohol, and parental incapacity. Because each party to parenting proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court is required to file a Notice of Risk, it is hoped that some useful statistics may be able to be generated about the percentage of parenting matters in which specific allegations are made.

Legislative amendment by states and territories to facilitate information sharing with the family courts as recommended by Professor Chisholm in his report Information Sharing in Family Law and Child Protection – Enhancing Collaboration is clearly desirable. During the year the Court made a submission to the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services (Qld) highlighting these recommendations in the context of their review of the Child Protection Act 1999 (Qld).

The Court is working in close collaboration with State and Territory welfare departments to reduce any workload implications since the 2012 amendments. However there appears to be little consistency in how agencies deal with Family Law Act notices, nor consistency in their assessments as to whether they meet the protective threshold. Because of the higher threshold for intervention under state welfare legislation, very few Notices of Risk became the subject of substantiation under state legislation, but the early exchange of information is seen as critical to effective case management.

In Victoria the co-location of Department of Health and Human Services Liaison Officers has resulted in the exchange of information at an early stage which aids the decision making process and any family consultant intervention. Information sharing has also been progressed in New South Wales with the expansion of the 'Personal History Pilot' state-wide. These and other local initiatives are commended.

Table 3.4: Family law applications filed by type, 2015–16
Application Filed %
Final orders applications 17,523 21
Interim applications 21,521 25
Divorce applications 44,098 52
Other applications 1778 2
Total 84,920 100

Figure 3.3: Family law applications filed by type, 2015–16

Figure 3.3: Family law applications filed by type, 2015–16
 

Final orders applications are filed when litigants seek to obtain final parenting and/or financial orders. Applications in a Case (Interim) seek interim or procedural orders pending the determination of final orders.

Figure 3.4: Final orders applications, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.4: Final orders applications, 2011–12 to 2015–16
 

Figure 3.5: Interim orders applications, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.5: Interim orders applications, 2011–12 to 2015–16
 

The family law workload (excluding divorce) can be broken into three main categories. In 2015–16, 53 per cent of family law applications related specifically to matters concerning children, a further 12 per cent involved both children and property, and 34 per cent involved discrete property applications.

Figure 3.6: Issues sought in final orders applications, 2015–16

Figure 3.6: Issues sought in final orders applications, 2015–16
 

Increasing reporting of risks

Prioritising the safety of children is, and must continue to be, the focus of all those working in both the child protection and family law systems. The prevalence of allegations of risk in parenting proceedings is of particular concern as parenting applications comprise the most significant component of the family law workload of the Court. While the Family Court has the specialised Magellan case management system to deal with complex child abuse cases, similar resources are not available to implement this in the Federal Circuit Court.

From 12 January 2015, the Court commenced a national roll out of the Notice of Risk as a requirement for filing with all parenting applications. As highlighted in previous Annual Reports, the Notice of Risk was originally piloted in South Australia from February 2013. It represents a departure from the previously prescribed Form 4 as it is required to be filed with all parenting applications rather than only in those instances where allegations attract the statutory notification requirement.

In addition to implementing the Notice of Risk nationally, the Court has been an active participant in efforts to improve the interface between the child welfare and family law systems by way of local liaisons. As highlighted in the submission made by the Court to the Family Law Council term of reference on 'Families with Complex Needs', the different legal environments and thresholds present considerable obstacles for those seeking to navigate these systems. The location of a child protection practitioner at the Melbourne and Dandenong registries of the Court represents a useful model to address these intersectional divides and is the subject of an evaluation by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. The Court extends its appreciation to the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services for making these resources available.

Another useful development is the pilot by the NSW Department of Families and Community Services to provide, in certain circumstances, access to personal histories by way of their information exchange provisions. The pilot has the potential to reduce the number of subpoenas and more targeted section 69ZW orders. During the year the Department extended the pilot with a view to evaluating the viability of the provision of this information to the Court more widely.

While there is scope for a greater level of information sharing and collaboration to address the jurisdictional gaps, these local initiatives are welcomed.

The impact of family violence on children is well recognised and the Court supports the national focus with all governments agreeing to work together to tackle the issue. As part of the courts' Family Violence Strategy, there are best practice principles which have been developed to provide practical guidance to judicial officers in dealing with matters where family violence is alleged. Further details on the Family Violence Best Practice Principles can be found at www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au

Divorce

Most applications for divorce are filed in the Federal Circuit Court and the workload is undertaken by registrars with delegated powers. During the year there were 44,098 divorce applications in comparison with 45,593 from the previous year. The assistance of registrars in undertaking this workload is appreciated. Contested divorce matters proceed to a judge for determination. Many applications are made by litigants without legal assistance and information in the form of kits guide litigants through the procedural requirements. In addition, in some localities, staff from the Court Network are available to assist litigants as it is appreciated that for many litigants a court appearance can be stressful and unfamiliar. Every effort is made to ensure litigants have access to information on the requirements and procedures adopted.

The role that the National Enquiry Centre (NEC) staff play in respect of enquiries relating to divorce proceedings is noted. In particular, ensuring litigants understand the option for eFiling on the Commonwealth Courts Portal and directing them to the website to complete the divorce checklist at the How do I apply for a divorce? page.

The dynamic interactive checklist was created to assist litigants when applying for a divorce so there is less chance of errors in applications. The NEC also provides general divorce support in relation to applying, service and information about court events, as well as administrative support for Commonwealth Courts Portal users, and assisting litigants and lawyers when they register and eFile applications for divorce.

Throughout the year significant progress was made on the development of a fully electronic divorce file, with the aim of simplifying the administrative processes. Although there has been the facility to eFile divorce applications for some years, efforts are being made to increase the number of eFiled divorce applications. The benefits to litigants of filing online include being able to select from a list of available hearing dates. There are also administrative benefits for registries not only in the reduction of hard copy files and accompanying storage, but also greater flexibility in the management of the divorce workload.

Accompanying the efforts to facilitate eFiling of divorce applications are changes to the information on the website to better assist litigants applying for a divorce. New features include interactive steps to assist applicants to better understand the legal requirements. In addition, brochures have been developed to assist those who may not be able to eFile their applications but may seek this assistance through a community legal centre. Public access computers are available in all registries and have been equipped with access to the Portal so that litigants will be able to upload documents at registry locations.

Figure 3.7: Divorce applications, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.7: Divorce applications, 2011–12 to 2015–16
 

Child support

The Court has limited first instance child support jurisdiction but does exercise some appeal jurisdiction in respect of child support.

As a result of amendments by the Tribunals Amendment Act 2015, which commenced on 1 July 2015, 'child support first review' is now a jurisdiction which the Court shares with the Federal Court. Prior to 1 July 2015, the Federal Circuit Court shared this jurisdiction with the Family Court. During the year consequential amendments were made to the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 by way of the Federal Circuit Court Amendment (Costs and Other Measures) Rules 2016 to make specific reference to s.44AAA of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975. Consistent with the previous appeal regime under section 10B of the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988, an appeal pursuant to s.44AAA of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975 is limited to an appeal 'on a question of law'. During the year there were 32 child support first review applications, which is a slight increase from the 27 in the previous year. A brochure has been prescribed to be served with applications to provide some information on the type of child support applications and appeals that can be filed in the Court. This brochure and other information on the child support jurisdiction is available on the Court's website at www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au

In the larger registries, discrete child support enforcement lists have been established as an effective means of dealing with the enforcement workload.

There has been some judicial consideration of the source of power to stay collection of child support pending the hearing of an appeal and, in particular, whether section 111C of the Child Support (Registration & Collection) Act 1988 has any ongoing application in respect of child support reviews. In Lawson & Lynch & Anor [2016] FCCA 1258, the presiding judge made no concluded decision on this but noted:

[41-44] I have reservations at present about the proposition that s.111C has no application when an appeal is made from a child support first review decision. However the parties in the case before me barely touched on the issue of the applicable law during submissions and given that and given the potentially far reaching implications of a decision about whether s.111C continues to have application, I am reluctant to express a concluded view about the matter when I do not need to do so.

I do not need to do so because although s.111C is referred to in the order sought by Mr Lawson, his application is cast in the wording of s.44A(2) (he sought a stay of the AAT decision) and in the factual circumstances of this case s.44A(2) potentially provides him with a remedy.

I therefore intend to treat Mr Lawson's application as an application made pursuant to s.44A (2).

Report on work in general federal law

Administrative

Judicial review of visa-related decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) constitute the bulk of the Court's judicial review workload (for further discussion of the migration workload see page 67). Other than judicial review in the context of migration and child support first review appeals, the Court's AAT review jurisdiction is confined to matters remitted from the Federal Court and excludes those appeals from decisions of the AAT constituted by a presidential member. There is no limitation on the jurisdiction of the Court in respect of Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 applications. The Court considers there is scope for expanding the jurisdiction of the Court to encompass some review rights under section 39B of the Judiciary Act 1903.

Since 1 July 2015, following the merger of the Commonwealth Tribunals, child support first review appeals come to the Court on appeal from the AAT rather than the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT) which was abolished. The merger established the Social Services and Child Support Division of the AAT which took over the jurisdiction of the SSAT. The source of jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit Court in relation to judicial review of child support matters is now found in section 44AAA of the AAT Act. This is jurisdiction which is now shared with the Federal Court rather than the Family Court. The Federal Circuit Court Amendment (Costs and Other Measures) Rules 2016 included amendments to the Rules in respect of child support and child maintenance as a consequence of the tribunals merger. New paragraph 25A.01(1)(aa) now makes specific reference to section 44AAA to clarify the application of rules in respect of judicial review of child support matters within Part 25A. Consequential amendments were also made to the Rules consistency with the new legal framework of the AAT following the merger of the tribunals.

There was an amendment to the Practice Direction – 'Consent Orders in Proceedings Involving a Federal Tribunal' to ensure a succinct statement of the matters said to justify the making of the consent order is by way of a notation on the draft order rather than by way of a separate attachment. http://www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fccweb/rules-and-legislation/practice-directions/2016/

During the year representatives from the Court and the Federal Court met with personnel of the merged AAT to facilitate arrangements in respect of appeal processes.

Some of the administrative law decisions which came before the Court during the year included:

  • Chien v Minister for Immigration & Ors [2016] FCCA 491, in which the applicant, as the father of the child upon who citizenship was conferred, sought an order to quash the decision to confer Australian Citizenship upon the child. This application was brought pursuant to the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 and was opposed by the third respondent, being the mother of the child. The legal issues for consideration included consideration of whether the mother was properly authorised to make an application for Australian Citizenship and whether, having made that application without the consent or knowledge of the father, the first respondent was bound by the rules of procedural fairness or natural justice to seek out the father's view of the application
  • O'Shea & Principal Member Social Security Appeals Tribunal & Anor [2016] FCCA 1161, in which the Court was asked to consider an application for judicial review of a decision of a delegate of the Principal Member of the SSAT as it then was, now the AAT, to issue a Direction to Produce Documents to him.
Table 3.5: General federal law applications filed by type, 2015–16
General federal law Total % of total
Administrative law 63 0.73%
Admiralty law 12 0.14%
Bankruptcy 3874 44.79%
Intellectual property 39 0.45%
Human rights 75 0.87%
Industrial 972 11.23%
Migration 3537 40.90%
Consumer law 77 0.89%
Total 8649 100
Admiralty

Admiralty law is a discrete body of law dealing with maritime issues and claims. The Admiralty Act 1988 provides a uniform national law to govern the exercise of admiralty jurisdiction by Australian courts. Subsection 41(4) of the Act provides that admiralty jurisdiction is conferred on the Federal Court, the Federal Circuit Court and on the courts of the territories, and invests courts of the states with federal jurisdiction, in respect of matters arising under the Rules.

The Court shares admiralty jurisdiction in respect of in personam claims with the Federal Court and the courts of the states and territories on maritime claims or a claim for damage to a ship. The Court does not have jurisdiction to make orders directly in respect of a ship, that is, in rem. However the Court can exercise in rem jurisdiction upon remittal from the Federal Court and state supreme courts. The number of applications filed is small with only 12 filed during the year.

In Hanjin Shipping Australia Pty Ltd & Anor v Iws Australia and New Zealand Pty Ltd [2016] FCCA 530, the Court considered whether there was jurisdiction to grant the relief sought in the context of an application for enforcement of monies outstanding in respect of various contracts for the provision of shipping services and concluded:

[15-18] On an application for default judgment under r.13.03B of the Rules, the Court must be satisfied of two critical factors. The first is that the Court has jurisdiction to grant the relief sought. The second is that the Plaintiffs appear entitled to the amount claimed.

In relation to the jurisdiction of the Court, s.9 of the Admiralty Act 1988 (Cth) (the Admiralty Act) confers jurisdiction on this Court in respect of proceedings commenced as actions in personam in respect of a maritime claim.

Section 4(3)(f) of the Admiralty Act provides that a reference in the Admiralty Act to a general maritime claim is a reference to, inter alia, a claim arising out of an agreement that relates to the carriage of goods or persons via ship or to the use or hire of a ship, whether by charter party or otherwise.

I am satisfied that the shipping services referred to by the Plaintiffs in its Statement of Claim filed on 11 February 2016 enlivens the jurisdiction of this Court.
Bankruptcy

The Court shares concurrent personal bankruptcy jurisdiction with the Federal Court (although the Federal Court has the power to determine a matter with a jury). Most bankruptcy applications proceed before the Federal Circuit Court.

As was noted in last year's Annual Report, while bankruptcy still represents a significant component of the general federal law jurisdiction, there has, over the last few years, been a general downward trend in bankruptcy filings. In 2015–16 however there was an increase in filings from 3707 in 2014–15 to 3874.

The Court appreciates the support that registrars provide in this jurisdiction, with most applications proceedings before registrars with delegated powers.

Currently the Court only has jurisdiction in relation to personal insolvency and the administration of the financial affairs of an insolvent natural person. During the year the Senate Economics Reference Committee in its report following an inquiry into Insolvency in the Australian Construction industry included the following recommendation:

Recommendation 44

12.68 The committee recommends that the government, through the work of the Legislative and Governance Forum for Corporations, give serious consideration to extending the jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia to include corporate insolvencies under the Corporations Act.

http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Insolvency_construction/Report/b03

Representatives from the Court and the Federal Court had meetings with representatives from Australian Financial Security Authority to facilitate processes and procedures.

A financial counselling pilot involving the provision of financial counselling services to self-represented debtors in the bankruptcy lists has operated in the Melbourne registry of the Court since 2014. This pilot is the result of collaborative efforts between the courts, the Consumer Action Law Centre and the Melbourne Law School. During the year it was the subject of an evaluation by Melbourne University Law School Associate Professor Paul Ali, Lucinda O'Brien and Professor Ian Ramsay and a report of their evaluation was released in August 2015: Federal Circuit Court Financial Counselling Project Evaluation.
http://law.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/1767531/Federal-Circuit-Court-financial-counselling-project-evaluation-August-2015.pdf

As highlighted in the executive summary to the report, the authors concluded that:

  • the project has been highly successful in assisting self-represented debtors in bankruptcy proceedings, and in increasing efficiency in the resolution of those proceedings. While there is scope to improve the service, there is also reason to expect that it will benefit debtors and the Court if it continues in its current form. The report includes several recommendations regarding the improvement. The project has also increased the Court's efficiency by reducing the number of hearings taken to finalise matters involving self-represented debtors. This saves the Court time and allows it to use its resources more efficiently
  • significant efficiencies also result from giving debtors a better understanding of the nature of bankruptcy proceedings, and of the focus of the Court on issues of solvency. When debtors are able to appreciate the real issues before the Court, to put on relevant submissions and evidence and to enter into informed discussions with creditors, they can more properly participate in and engage with their proceedings, promoting access to justice, and leading to a more just resolution of proceedings, and
  • the evaluation indicates that the project has helped several debtors to demonstrate solvency (thereby avoiding bankruptcy) and several others to accept bankruptcy as a positive option in their particular circumstances. The surveys and interviews found that all debtors, financial counsellors and registrars, and the majority of creditors' solicitors, agreed that the project helps debtors to understand the purpose of a bankruptcy proceeding and the consequences of being made bankrupt. Several creditors' solicitors identified benefits in having the financial counsellors available at the Court, including less delay and a more streamlined process. Notably, 89 per cent of creditors' solicitors agreed that debtors were better off as a result of the financial counsellors' assistance. The registrars stated that the project made better use of court resources, while also ensuring that debtors can participate meaningfully in the Court process. The financial counsellors strongly believed that the service assists debtors, creditors and the Court, by enabling debtors to focus on the relevant issues and take realistic, practical steps to resolve their matters.

Funding has been made available for the pilot to continue for another 12 months.

The Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2016 replaced the Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2006 from 1 April 2016. The Federal Circuit Court and the Federal Court have harmonised bankruptcy rules in light of the shared bankruptcy jurisdiction. The new Bankruptcy Rules do not substantially alter the previous rules but reflect a contemporary drafting style and correct obvious errors and provide guidance where required. The courts have also approved new bankruptcy forms and provided that there is a six months period of grace until 30 September for the use of the previously prescribed forms.

In April 2016 the Government issued a Proposal Paper on Improving bankruptcy and insolvency laws seeking views on the Government's proposals which included a proposal to reduce the current default bankruptcy period from three years to one year.

http://www.treasury.gov.au/ConsultationsandReviews/Consultations/2016/Improving-bankruptcy-and-insolvency-laws

Figure 3.8: Bankruptcy applications, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.8: Bankruptcy applications, 2011–12 to 2015–16
 

Consumer

The Federal Circuit Court has civil jurisdiction with respect to claims under the following provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010:

  • Section 46 (Misuse of Market Power)
  • Section IVB (Industry Codes)
  • Part XI (Application of the Australian Consumer Law as a law of the Commonwealth), and
  • Schedule 2 (Australian Consumer Law).

However there is a monetary limit on the grant of injunctive relief and damages up to $750,000.

The Court also has jurisdiction in respect of consumer credit matters under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 with provision for access to small claims procedures in relation to certain compensation matters.

There are few applications filed under this head of jurisdiction and the Court considers it would be desirable to remove the monetary limitations.

Although few consumer law applications are filed, the jurisdiction is sometimes enlivened in the context of other substantive relief sought. In an interlocutory determination in Reed & Reed [2016] FCCA 1338 involving proceedings for the enforcement of a binding financial agreement pursuant to the Family Law Act 1975, the Court considered whether it had jurisdiction under two separate bases to deal with the claims against the solicitors in this case. Firstly its original jurisdiction pursuant to the Trade Practices Act (now Competition and Consumer Act) and the accrued jurisdiction with respect to that claim; and secondly the Court's accrued jurisdiction as a result of its jurisdiction to deal with the financial agreement under the Family Law Act. With respect to the claims pursuant to the Fair Trading Act and Trade Practices Act, the applicant alleged that as a result of the advice he was given, the solicitors engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct or conduct likely to mislead or deceive contrary to section 52 of the Trade Practices Act (now the Competition and Consumer Act) and section 9 of the Fair Trading Act.

During the year it was announced that there was to be the first review of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) since its introduction on 1 January 2011 to assess the effectiveness of the ACL. This review is being overseen by Consumer Affairs Australia and New Zealand and formally commenced on 31 March 2016 with the release of an issues paper. A call for submissions to the issues paper closed on 27 May 2016 and an interim report will be released for public consultation in the second half of 2016.

The Treasury Legislation Amendment (Small Business and Unfair Contract Terms) Act 2015 amended the ACL to extend the unfair contract term protections to small business contracts. The new law allows unfair contract terms to be declared void. The contract will then only continue to bind the parties if it can operate without the unfair term. The legislation will apply in addition to existing industry regulatory protections, such as the Franchising Code of Conduct.

Human rights

The Court exercises concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Court for unlawful discrimination claims under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986, in respect of complaints under the Age Discrimination Act 2004, Disability Discrimination Act 1992, Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

The jurisdiction can only be enlivened following the termination of a complaint by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the claim to the Court must be the same or substantially the same as the complaint to the AHRC or arise out of the same circumstances as that complaint. There is jurisdiction for the Court to grant interim injunctive relief where there is a prima facie case of discrimination and the balance of convenience favours the granting of injunctive relief.

There are no monetary jurisdictional limits upon the Court in proceedings under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986.

There are few applications which proceed to the Court under this head of jurisdiction. This may be due to the fact that Commonwealth unlawful discrimination laws and the State and Territory laws not infrequently overlap and prohibit the same type of discrimination. There is also an unlawful discrimination provision under the Fair Work Act 2009 when an employer takes adverse action against a person who is an employee or prospective employee because of certain attributes of the person.

There are not infrequently interim applications made in human rights proceedings for orders that the Court specify a maximum amount of costs a party may recover against another party. The factors relevant to determining whether such an order should be made were considered in Hudson v Australian Broadcasting Corporation [2016] FCCA 917.

The following judgments are illustrative of the type of human rights proceedings which came before the Court during the year:

Industrial

The industrial law proceedings are a significant component of the overall general federal law work of the Court.

Figure 3.9: Industrial applications filed and finalised, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.9: Industrial applications filed and finalised, 2011–12 to 2015–16
 

In respect of industrial law matters, the Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Court in respect of matters under the Fair Work Act 2009 (the FW Act). The types of proceedings which are commonly filed in the Federal Circuit Court under the FW Act include claims for breaches of the general protection provisions, enforcement of or compensation for underpayment of award entitlements and civil penalties.

Any application alleging adverse action or contravention of a general protection must first be conciliated at the Fair Work Commission (the Commission) before proceedings can be commenced in the Federal Circuit Court. Enforcement proceedings can be commenced in the Court if compensation as ordered by the Commission is not paid.

The Court may make any order it considers appropriate if satisfied that a person has contravened, or proposes to contravene, a civil remedy provision of the FW Act (such as section 352, which prohibits an employee being dismissed because of a temporary absence from work due to illness or injury). Orders the Court may make include the following:

  • an order granting an injunction, or interim injunction, to prevent, stop or remedy the effects of a contravention
  • an order awarding compensation for loss that a person has suffered because of the contravention (which can include interest), or
  • an order for reinstatement of a person.

The Court may also, on application, order a person to pay a civil penalty that the Court considers is appropriate if the Court is satisfied that the person has contravened a civil remedy provision. The civil penalty for an individual must not be more than the maximum penalty for the relevant contravention set out in section 539 of the FW Act. In the case of a body corporate, the maximum penalty is five times the maximum for an individual.

The Court has an increasingly active jurisdiction to deal with small claims under s.548 of the FW Act (up to a maximum of $20,000). Generally a party to a small claim application may not be represented by a lawyer without leave. To facilitate the resolution of such matters, discrete small claims lists have been established in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane with the aim of resolving the matter at the first court date. Assistance is provided to litigants in the small claims list by staff of the Fair Work Ombudsman.

During the year, the High Court in Commonwealth of Australia v Director, Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate; Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union v Director, Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate [2015] HCA 49, clarified the principles applicable to agreed penalty submissions in civil penalty proceedings. The joint reasons for judgment concluded that the reasoning of the plurality in Barbaro v The Queen [2014] HCA 2, had no application to a civil penalty proceeding and the task of the Court is to determine whether, in all the circumstances, the agreed penalty is an appropriate penalty.

The High Court also considered the sham contracting provisions of the FW Act in a matter of Fair Work Ombudsman v Quest South Perth Holdings Pty Ltd [2015] HCA 45. In allowing the appeal from the Full Court of the Federal Court, the High Court found that an employer engaged in sham contracting.

Intellectual property

The intellectual property workload represents a very small component of the general federal law workload and an even smaller component of the overall workload of the Court. However since the conferral of jurisdiction in respect of civil copyright infringement in 2003, there has been a gradual expansion of the intellectual property jurisdiction with the inclusion, in 2013, of trade mark and design and more recently, infringements under the Plant Breeder's Rights Act 1994. There is however scope for further conferral of the intellectual property jurisdiction to include patent enforcements.

During the year the Productivity Commission was asked to undertake an inquiry into Australia's intellectual property arrangements, including their effect on investment, competition, trade, innovation and consumer welfare. A draft report was released in April 2016 in which options were considered to better use the existing court system to improve intellectual property enforcement, particularly for small and medium sized enterprises. One option raised in the draft report was greater use of the Federal Circuit Court with some submissions calling for the extension of the Court's jurisdiction to hear patent disputes. A final report from the Productivity Commission is due in August 2016.

http://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/current/intellectual-property#report

Applications for infringement of copyright can often also seek relief in the context of consumer law. For example, in TM25 Holding B.V. & Ors v Redac International Pty Ltd & Ors [2016] FCCA 113, the three companies that owned various trademarks and copyright in respect of clothing apparel known as G-Star products brought proceedings against the respondents for allegedly trading in counterfeit G-Star product garments. The claim for relief as a result of these alleged infringements was made pursuant to s.120 of the Trade Marks Act 1995, s.36 of the Copyright Act 1968, ss.18 and 19 of the Australian Consumer Law as found in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and the common law tort of passing off.

In Monte v Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd [2015] FCCA 1633, the respondent was ordered to pay the applicant the sum of $10,001 as damages for breach of copyright, pursuant to ss.115(2) and 115(4) of the Copyright Act 1968. The breach of copyright concerned a photograph of Mr Monte's partner that was published in the Sun Herald newspaper in 2013. Damages were also sought for infringement of an author's moral rights pursuant to s.195AZA(b) of the Copyright Act, however the judge did not award these as there was no evidence that Mr Monte had been injured in any professional calling as a photographer.

Hamilton v Stark [2015] FCCA 3309 was an appeal from a decision of the Registrar of Trade Marks. The applicant opposed the registration of trade mark ALKAVIVA, on the grounds of s.43 (that the trade mark likely to deceive or cause confusion) and s.60 (trade mark similar to trade mark that has acquired a reputation in Australia) of the Trade Marks Act 1995. The judge also considered whether the applicant was entitled to raise a further ground of opposition to the registration of the respondent's mark not raised before the Registrar of Trade Marks.

Migration

The projected increase in the migration workload did not eventuate and there was a slight downturn in the filing figures from last year (3896) to 3537 in 2015–16. This may be due to the lower than expected number of litigants that have proceeded to the Court following Independent Assessment Authority (IAA) review. As highlighted in last year's Annual Report, the Court was expecting a significant upward trend in this workload flowing from the review of the so called 'asylum legacy caseload' which comprises those who arrived unauthorised by boat between August 2012 and December 2013 and have not been transferred to offshore processing centres.

The Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Act 2014 took effect on 18 April 2015 and introduced a new 'fast track process' for reviewing refused applications for protection visas to be conducted by the newly established IAA. All applicants processed from this cohort (even those excluded from IAA merits review) continue to have access to judicial review. During the reporting year there were 46 applicants proceeding from the IAA review and one that was excluded from the merit review but sought judicial review. The small number of matters that have proceeded to the Court from this 'legacy caseload' during the financial year is no doubt reflective of the fact that the processing of such applicants has only recently commenced and it is expected there will be a significant rise in the number of applicants as a result of further processing and merits review being advanced. As the new statutory regime introduces new merit review procedures for migration litigants, the Court is mindful of the potential for delays and the impact this may have on matters proceeding expeditiously where there are substantive issues of law to be resolved.

Over the past five years the number of migration filings has grown nearly three-fold. The increase has placed pressure on the Court as such significant increases in one area of work inevitably have an impact on the allocation of resources overall and the ability of the Court to meet its benchmarks for disposition. Without additional judicial resources, it is inevitable that the Court will experience difficulties in ensuring timely dispositions of such matters and early hearing dates. The work is undertaken by panel judges and in certain locations additional judges have been assigned. However priority cannot be given to this area of the Court's jurisdiction at the expense of other areas of jurisdiction.

Figure 3.10: Migration applications filed and finalised, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.10: Migration applications filed and finalised, 2011–12 to 2015–16
 

While Sydney and Melbourne attract the largest percentage of the migration workload, there are significant migration filings in the Perth registry which currently only has one Federal Circuit Court judge.

Figure 3.11: Migration applications filed Perth, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.11: Migration applications filed Perth, 2011–12 to 2015–16
 

The Court seeks to manage the migration workload by way of a specialist panel. Specific rules have been prescribed and the procedure established by those rules is intended to follow generally the procedure of the High Court in dealing with applications for constitutional writs. There is provision for a show cause hearing and the Court has power to dismiss at an early stage if not satisfied that the application raises an arguable case. The Court has been able to utilise the assistance of registrars in the workload at the directions stage, but the jurisdiction is one that calls for active judge management by way of an expeditious hearing.

During the year a number of High Court decisions relevant to the jurisdiction were delivered. These included:

  • Wei v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (2015) 327 ALR 28, in which the High Court held that the requirement for a registered provider to upload information of the enrolment of a person onto the Provider Registration and International Student Management System database, pursuant to s.19 of the Education Services for Overseas Students ACT 2000 (Cth), is an imperative duty and that failure to comply with it affected the decision of the tribunal to affirm the cancellation of a student's visa.
  • Minister for Immigration and Border Protection v WZARH and Anor (2015) 326 ALR 1, in which the High Court found that WZARH was denied procedural fairness because he was not given the opportunity to advance his case in an interview with the person who made the recommendation to the Minister and that opportunity was denied without him being given an opportunity to be heard.

Complaints

The Court is committed to acknowledging complaints and managing responses in a timely and effective manner. The Court's complaints and feedback policy and judicial complaints procedure is available on the Court's website www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au

During 2015–16, 208 complaints were received which is slightly higher than the previous year (196). Complaints are categorised as follows:

  • Overdue judgments – 66
  • Conduct of judge or registrar – 50
  • Dispute resolution and mediation – 45
  • Legal process – 14
  • Conduct of legal representative – 1
  • Judicial decision – 5
  • Enforcement of orders – 1
  • Delays in proceedings – 3
  • Registry services – 10
  • Perjury – 1
  • Fees – 2
  • Administrative processes − 8
  • Divorce proceedings – 2

The number of complaints is relatively small and although it is of concern that the largest number of complaints remain in relation to outstanding decisions, the number of these complaints is higher than in previous years. The Court has a protocol which sets a benchmark of three months and matters that are outside this benchmark are actively monitored by the Chief Judge's chambers.

Judicial complaints policy

The Judicial Misbehaviour and Incapacity (Parliamentary Commissions) Act 2012 and the Court's Legislation Amendment (Judicial Complaints) Act 2012 commenced on 12 April 2013.

The Judicial Complaints Act amended the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999, Family Law Act 1975, the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976, and the Freedom of Information Act 1982 to:

  • provide a statutory basis for the Chief Justice of the Federal Court, the Chief Justice of the Family Court and the Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court to deal with complaints about judicial officers
  • provide protection from civil proceedings that could arise from a complaints handling process for a Chief Justice or the Chief Judge as well as participants assisting them in the complaints handling process, and
  • exclude from the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 documents arising in the context of consideration and handling of a complaint about a judicial officer.

The Parliamentary Commissions Act provides a standard mechanism for parliamentary consideration of removal of a judge from office under of the Australian Constitution paragraph 72(ii). Details of the judicial complaints procedure of the Court are available at www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au under Contact Us > Feedback and Complaints.

Judgments

In 2015–16 a total of 3362 judgments were settled into written format. This is a slight decrease from the 3444 settled in 2014–15, but continues the increase from previous years (2923 judgments in 2013–14 and 2863 judgments in 2012–13).

A breakdown by jurisdictional category is as follows:

  • Administrative – 43
  • Bankruptcy – 133
  • Child support (including AAT) – 49
  • Consumer law – 9
  • Family law – 1479
  • Human rights – 23
  • Industrial law –181
  • Intellectual property (includes copyright and trademarks) – 6
  • National security – 1
  • Migration – 1386
  • Practice and procedure – 52

The publication of the Court's decisions is considered to fulfil an important public interest. In an effort to improve open justice, the Court makes every effort to disseminate its decisions as widely as possible and in a timely manner. This is achieved through a number of channels. All judgments that are suitable for external distribution are published to AustLII (the primary free-access resource for Australian legal information). Members of the public can subscribe via the Court's website, to receive regular updates of decisions posted on AustLII. Copies of these judgments are also distributed to commercial legal publishers for inclusion in their case citation databases. In 2015–16, 208 decisions of the Court were published in commercial law reports such as the Federal Law Reports. The Court also publishes a link to the AustLII version of the judgment on its own website. For the latest judgments see www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au

Section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975 stipulates that published judgments in family law matters must not reveal, among other details, the identity of parties or associated persons to the proceedings. Judgment officers devoted a significant amount of time sanitising approximately 766 judgments, out of the total 1479 written family law decisions.

During the year the Court considered issues surrounding the external distribution of settled judgments in comparison to the judgments publication policies and practices of other Australian courts and tribunals. It is considered that the Court aligned well with courts of similar jurisdiction in respect of the public distribution of judgments.

For the second year, the Practice Direction No 1 of 2015 – 'Citations of decisions of Australian Courts and Tribunals' – was in effect. This practice direction stipulates the requirements in respect of citations of judgments to the Court. Included in the list of versions of copies of cited judgments that can be provided to the Court is the new Signed by AustLII format copy of a judgment. Information on the new format for downloading decision in this format is available from www.austlii.edu.au/austlii/announce/2015/1. The Court believes this initiative assists those who do not have access to authorised law reports in accessing copies of decisions during their proceedings.

In addition, members of the public can subscribe via the Court's website to receive regular updates of decisions posted on AustLII. For the latest judgments see www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au

Appeals

Family law

An appeal lies to the Family Court from the Federal Circuit Court exercising jurisdiction under the Family Law Act and with leave, the Child Support Acts. An appeal in relation to such matters is exercised by a Full Court unless the Chief Justice considers it appropriate for a single judge to exercise the jurisdiction. There was a seven per cent decrease in the number of appeals going to the Family Court from the Federal Circuit Court during the year as set out on the next page.

Table 3.6: Notice of appeals filed, finalised and pending by jurisdiction, 2011–12 to 2015–16
Filed 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 % change
from 2014–15
to 2015–16
Family Court of Australia 161 152 151 173 170 -2%
Federal Circuit Court of Australia 213 166 179 216 201 -7%
Appeals filed 374 318 330 389 371 -5%
Per cent from Family Court of Australia 43% 48% 46% 44% 46% 2%
Per cent from Federal Circuit Court of Australia 57% 52% 54% 56% 54% -2%
Finalised 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 % change
from 2014–15
to 2015–16
Family Court of Australia 140 150 150 143 168 17%
Federal Circuit Court of Australia 188 184 187 213 186 -13%
Appeals finalised 328 334 337 356 354 -1%
Per cent from Family Court of Australia 43% 45% 45% 40% 47% 7%
Per cent from Federal Circuit Court of Australia 57% 55% 55% 60% 53% -7%
Pending 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 % change
from 2014–15
to 2015–16
Family Court of Australia 141 143 144 174 145 -17%
Federal Circuit Court of Australia 138 120 112 115 125 9%
Appeals pending 279 263 256 289 270 -7%
Per cent from Family Court of Australia 51% 54% 56% 60% 54% -6%
Per cent from Federal Circuit Court of Australia 49% 46% 44% 40% 46% 6%
General federal law

Appeals and appellate-related applications in respect of general federal law proceedings go to the Federal Court and are heard by a single judge unless it is considered appropriate for the appellate jurisdiction to be exercised by a Full Court. The majority of general federal law matters are in respect of migration proceedings and are heard and determined by a single judge exercising the Federal Court's appellate jurisdiction.

During the year, appeals and appellate-related applications from the Federal Circuit Court comprised 70 per cent of the appellate work of the Federal Court, being 849 of the total of 1203.

Of these appeals and appellate-related applications, 639 involved migration judgments of the Federal Circuit Court. The overall number of appeals and appellate-related applications filed in 2015–16 from the Federal Circuit Court (849) was an increase on the number filed during 2014–15, (775) which is indicative of the increase in the Court's migration jurisdiction.

Dispute resolution

The Federal Circuit Court has grown to become Australia's principal federal trial court. The Federal Circuit Court's jurisdiction and less formal legislative mandate is such that a significant number of parties present as self-represented litigants. In family law the Court is assisted by legal aid duty lawyer schemes. To address the needs of such litigants in the general federal law jurisdiction a number of initiatives have been established.

General federal law

The general federal law dispute resolution provisions are contained in Part 4 of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999. The Court operates a docket management system and referrals by judges are the most frequently used procedure in general federal law proceedings. Most mediation is undertaken by registrars of the Court however some matters are referred to external providers.

Not all matters are equally likely to be referred to mediation. In practice particular characteristics of some matters mean that referrals to mediation may occur infrequently if at all. Such matters include Migration applications.

The number of matters referred to mediation in 2015–16 decreased from the 665 referrals in 2014–15 to 584.

Table 3.7: Number of matters referred to mediation, 2011–12 to 2015–16
  2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16
Referrals 502 521 511 665 584

Table 3.7 shows the number of referrals to mediation by cause of action both as a number and as a percentage of filings. Overall seven per cent of filings were referred to mediation. As a percentage of matters the causes of action most referred to mediations were Human Rights and Industrial with 66 per cent of matters referred and Consumer matters with 46 per cent.

Table 3.8: Filings and mediation referrals to a registrar as a percentage of filings, 2015–16
  Filings Referrals Referrals as % of Filings
Administrative 63 2 3
Admiralty 12 3 25
Bankruptcy 3874 46 1
Human rights 75 50 67
Industrial 972 446 46
Intellectual property 39 14 36
Consumer 77 17 22
Migration 3537 3  
All Filings 8649 581 7

The Court continues to engage a sessional registrar in Sydney and Melbourne to assist with mediation in the growing Fair Work small claims jurisdiction.

Table 3.9 shows the outcome of mediations conducted in the reporting period. Not all matters mediated in the reporting period will have been filed or even referred to mediation in the reporting period. Matters that are referred to mediation at the end of the reporting period may be mediated in the following reporting period.

Table 3.9: Mediation referral outcomes, 2015–16
  Resolved Part resolved Not resolved
Administrative 1   1
Admiralty     1
Bankruptcy 25 1 25
Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission 26   18
Industrial 223 7 211
Intellectual property 6 1 5
Consumer 7   10
Migration 1   1
Total 289 9 272

In the reporting period, registrars conducted 570 mediations and partially or fully resolved 298 matters or 52 per cent of matters. This is slightly down on the 54 per cent of matters resolved in 2014–15.

Pro Bono Scheme – Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 – Part 12

A court-based pro bono scheme is in operation similar to that which operates in the Federal Court. Part 12 of the Rules sets out rules in relation to the Court-administered scheme. Referrals for pro bono have generally been confined to general federal law matters. With a significant proportion of migration related matters involving self-represented litigants, the Court has been able to facilitate assistance to litigants. Assistance is also provided in various states by way of organisations such as JusticeNet. The Court appreciates the generosity of those members of the profession who agree to give their valuable time voluntarily to assist in such referrals.

Small claims lists – Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney
Background

The Fair Work Act 2009 makes provision for certain proceedings to be dealt with as small claims proceedings. An application may request that an application for compensation be dealt with under this Division if the compensation is not more than $20,000 and the compensation is for an entitlement mentioned in the Fair Work Act 2009. When dealing with a small claim application, the Court is not bound by the rules of evidence but may inform itself of any matter in any manner as it thinks fit.

A party to a small claims application may not be represented by a lawyer without the leave of the Court. Rules in relation to the conduct of proceedings in the Fair Work Division are found in Chapter 7 of the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001.

Objective

The Court aims to minimise the number of events needed to dispose of such applications. Ideally the Court aims to finalise these matters on the first hearing date. In Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane the Court has dedicated lists with panel judges assigned, with the aim of disposing of such matters on the first date. Staff from the Fair Work Ombudsman are available to provide assistance on an amicus basis.

The main aims are:

  • ensuring that both parties attend court at the first hearing with all relevant material. This is facilitated by:
    • having a notice with the listing that indicates the matter may be dealt with and determined on the first return date
    • providing information to applicants that advises them of the type of material they may need to provide in support of their claim, and
    • accepting documents such as Fair Work Ombudsman Inspector's Report as evidence of the applicant.
  • having a registrar with some knowledge of the area available for mediation where the judges consider this to be helpful, and
  • keeping it simple – with an application form with instructions which guides the applicant through what they need to provide on a step by step basis, and a pro forma affidavit of service.
Support

Litigants are provided with a fact sheet along with other resources to assist them in the process.

The Fair Work Ombudsman provides staff to assist at the lists on an amicus basis and various information material is available if additional claims are raised. Registrars are also available for mediation.

Migration duty lawyer scheme – Melbourne

The Federal Circuit Court migration workload, particularly its hearing workload, has steadily increased since October 2001 when migration jurisdiction was conferred on the Court. Migration now represents the largest jurisdiction in the Court's general federal law defended hearing list, with most first instance judicial review applications being filed in the Federal Circuit Court.

Migration work presents additional demands on the Court and its administration that do not arise in other areas of the Court's jurisdiction. As many litigants in migration matters are self-represented, particularly those seeking review of protection visa decisions, there is a greater need for pro bono representation or other legal representation, particularly as legal aid is not available to protection visa applicants who are in migration detention. The Court has found it essential to set up a pro bono scheme (similar to that which operates in the Federal Court).

There is a Legal Aid duty lawyer scheme in respect of the Federal Circuit Court directions lists in Melbourne.

Skilled Victorian Legal Aid migration duty lawyers are present at the directions hearings and give legal advice, refer eligible clients for legal aid, and may earmark some matters for pro bono referral. The Court is very grateful for this service as it facilitates the conduct of the migration matters.

Pro bono migration scheme – Brisbane

The Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane has, in conjunction with HopgoodGanim Lawyers and the Bar Association of Queensland, established a Pro Bono scheme to assist self-represented litigants in migration proceedings. Initial legal assistance is provided a well as referrals to a panel of barristers to undertake the legal work, including research, legal advice and court appearances.

Pilot to assist self-represented litigants – bankruptcy lists – Melbourne

In September 2014, the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne began a pilot to provide direct financial counselling services to self-represented debtors in the Court's Bankruptcy lists. This pilot was developed and implemented by the Court in collaboration with the Federal Court of Australia, the Consumer Action Law Centre and the Melbourne Law School to assist vulnerable debtors and to promote the efficient operation of bankruptcy proceedings in the Court.

The pilot involves having on-site financial counselling available every Tuesday and Thursday morning, in conjunction with hearings in the Bankruptcy list. The location of the service at the Court makes it possible for registrars to refer debtors for immediate financial counselling assistance, without the need for an adjournment. An evaluation of the pilot indicated the project has been successful in meetings its objectives and the project has been extended and further consideration will be given to options for its continuance and any further expansion.

Self-represented service

On 25 July 2013, the then Attorney-General announced new funding of $4 million over four years to support self-represented litigants in areas of general federal law. The funding allows the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House, Justice Connect, JusticeNet SA and Legal Aid Western Australia to provide greater access to the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court in each State and Territory.

This funding allows these services to provide basic legal information and advice to these people. The services include a focus on early resolution and mediation of disputes and discourage or divert unnecessary legal action. The four organisations providing this service have a strong history of providing frontline legal assistance services and dedication to improving access to justice for disadvantaged Australians. The service is based on a successful pilot conducted by the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House in the Federal Court and former Federal Magistrates Court.

Access to the service is through the following providers:

  • Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House, Queensland
  • Justice Connect: New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory
  • JusticeNet SA: South Australia and the Northern Territory, and
  • Legal Aid Western Australia, Western Australia.

Family law financial

In financial matters the Court:

  • offers privileged conciliation conferences conducted by registrars of the Court
  • offers privileged mediation in appropriate matters via the administered appropriation, and
  • refers appropriate matters to privately funded mediation.

In 2015–16, registrars held 4062 privileged conciliation conferences and settled approximately 37 per cent of these matters.

Administered fund

The Federal Circuit Court receives an administered appropriation to source dispute resolution services such as counselling, mediation and conciliation from community-based organisations. The Court is seeking to enhance the services provided to litigants and allow for greater flexibility in the provision of those services by utilising the fund to allow providers:

  • to undertake property mediation where the external provider will be located within the same location as the litigants and in a position to offer more timely interventions, and
  • to provide counselling and mediation services to litigants locally in appropriate circumstances.

The major focus of the administered fund is to provide mediation services to litigants in property matters particularly in rural and regional areas in support of its circuit work. These services are currently provided by Relationships Australia (Victoria).

The use of the administered fund continues to grow as services are extended to more regional locations. This reduces the need for registrars to travel from registry locations which impacts on the delays and services in the principal registries. It allows regional litigants to access mediation services in a timely fashion rather than waiting for registrar circuits.

In 2015–16, 345 matters were referred to mediation through the administered fund. Of the 345 matters, a total of 304 were finalised, with 200 matters being settled (66 per cent), and a further 20 matters being partially settled. A total of 14 matters did not proceed for various reasons. The use of the administered fund is an innovative way of providing timely access to justice to litigants, particularly those in rural and regional Australia where services are limited.

Child Dispute Services

Child Dispute Services' family consultants provide high quality, expert and independent forensic social science advice to judges of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court in the best interests of children. The values and principles underpinning this advice are:

  • child focus
  • impartiality
  • transparency
  • accountability
  • a basis in evidence and in empirical research, and
  • professionally established in the disciplines of psychology and social work and the respective codes of conduct, regulatory frameworks and ethical requirements.

This is achieved by the delivery of:

  • assessment of parents and children
  • submission of a forensic report to the Court
  • written preliminary advice to the Court
  • oral advice to the Court, and
  • expert evidence in court.
Australian standards

Following the release of the Australian Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting in 2015, this publication was widely distributed and promoted to all of those concerned with the family law system. This document provides information to decision makers, agencies and legal professionals involved in cases, as to what constitutes good practice in family assessments and reporting. It outlines a minimum standard of practice when conducting family assessments and preparing reports. A copy can be found at: http://www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au under Reports & Publications > Publications > Family Law

Noting the risks associated with family violence, this is an important addition to the practice of report writers (internal and external) and more widely, it promotes an understanding about what a family report is and the role of the expert.

Family violence screening

Family violence screening and risk assessment is an integral part of Child Dispute Services and ensures that family consultants provide informed advice to the courts in the best interests of children. A central tenet of, for example, s.11F interventions undertaken by Child Dispute Services, is to screen for risks that may exist in a given matter and provide a detailed interim description to the courts via memoranda, oral advice, or a child and parent issues assessment. In line with this, the current professional directions for family consultants outline a series of key areas which they must examine during s.11F assessments in order to formulate an (empirically based) opinion regarding family violence risk.

To enhance this practice, a decision was taken to source a structured family violence screening tool for family consultants to use during an interim s.11F intervention. The preference was for a brief instrument, reliant on extant empirical findings, that possessed robust psychometric properties and was suitable for use with parties that are separated. The Mediator's Assessment of Safety Issues and Concerns Practitioner Version 2 (MASIC-2P; Beck, Holtzwoth-Munroe & Applegate, 2012) was deemed to be the best fit for the Australian family law context. MASIC was adapted for use by family consultants and tested in Brisbane and Melbourne.

The courts were particularly interested to refine questions which include behaviourally-based questions; questions on coercive and controlling behaviour; and questions which would solicit reports of any violence before separation and since separation (noting that homicide and in particular, uxoricide, is found to more likely occur in the first year or even months, after separation.

The trials commenced in April 2015 in Melbourne and Brisbane. To enable family consultants to prepare prior to the consultation with parents, the questionnaire was completed online by parties before they attended the registries for their s.11F appointment. Parties were sent an email containing instructions and a URL.

The pilots confirmed that this screening approach is highly informative for the family consultant and assists them in refining early assessment to better take account of 'red flag' risk factors. Markers of family violence can enable a system of responses and potentially prevent tragedy. The evaluation report can be made available on request.

Professional development (family violence)

It is critical that family consultants' practice is based on research and an understanding of the dynamics associated with family violence. Ongoing development and learning is supported by a Connections core knowledge site which can be accessed by all consultants and contains up-to-date research. Desktop eLearning is also available and a series of new modules were developed, the first being on family violence. The new induction framework is rigorous and ensures that incoming family consultants are given the best opportunity to be successful in the unique role of family assessment and forensic court reporting.

Significantly, a continuous professional development framework was introduced requiring family consultants to accrue points for undertaking development in critical practice areas. This initiative brings our service into alignment with the requirements of professional bodies such as the Australian Psychological Society. For more information on family consultant professional development activities in 2015–16, see page 115.

A highlight for 2015–16 was a conference for all court-employed family consultants in Melbourne. Dr Robert Simon attended as resident at this conference. Dr Simon is a well-respected forensic psychologist, experienced custody evaluator of 30 years and renowned author in the field of family law assessments.

The conference included training in how to deal effectively and responsibly with cross-examination; techniques in observing parent and child interaction; family violence assessment and screening; refreshed professional directions for assessment and reporting; the risk of bias; mental health disorders and parenting capacity; and working effectively with children in complex settings, including Indigenous children.

Child Dispute Services selectively attended conferences including the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (Seattle) to ensure that the service remains up to date and leading in this specialist field.

New material for children

Child Disputes Services has supported the courts' Children's Committee initiative to revamp the material for children on the courts' websites. These pages are coined 'Kids and young people' and specific landing pages are now available for children 5–8 years, 9–12 years and teenagers. A key project for 2015–16 was the development of two new videos for children who are scheduled to meet with a family consultant at the Court. More information about these videos can be found at page 18.

Circuit program

The Federal Circuit Court is committed to providing services to the rural and regional areas of Australia. Judges of the Court currently sit in rural and regional locations to assist in meeting this commitment. These sittings are known as circuits.

In 2015–16 the Court sat in 30 rural and regional locations as part of its extensive circuit program. Details of the circuit locations are included at Appendix J.

When on circuit the Court sits in leased premises and State and Territory court facilities. Reliance on State facilities attracts a number of challenges for the Court including limited availability of courtrooms, limited hours of access, access to technology and resources such as telephone and video-link facilities, and security arrangements. The Court is aware of these challenges, not only for litigants and legal practitioners, but also staff, and continues to look for opportunities to improve facilities and resources and, therefore, the efficiency and value of circuits.

Judges of the Court travelled to circuit locations on 165 occasions throughout 2015–16. The length of these circuits varied from single days to whole weeks depending on the demands of the circuit and the distance to parent registries. It is estimated that the work undertaken in the rural and regional locations equates to approximately 20 per cent of the Court's family law workload. The Court is working towards capturing better data in respect to the work undertaken on circuit.

In addition to attending circuit locations, judges of the Court conduct some procedural and urgent hearings by video-link and telephone link in between circuits. The technology provides litigants with greater access to the Court and assists in maximising the value of time spent at the circuit locations. eFiling provides litigants and legal practitioner's greater access to the Court by enabling them to file documents from rural and regional locations as opposed to attending registry locations or using standard post.

The Court continues to look at ways to improve the efficiency of circuits and access to justice for litigants and legal practitioners. The Court meets with and consults with legal practitioners representing the Family Law Council Regional Committee to discuss various issues in relation to circuits and the Court.

Annual Performance Statement

Registry services

Introductory statement

I, Warwick Soden, as the accountable authority of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court administration, present the 2015–16 annual performance statements of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court administration, as required under paragraph 39(1)(a) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act). In my opinion, these annual performance statements are based on properly maintained records, accurately reflect the performance of the entity, and comply with subsection 39(2) of the PGPA Act.

[Signed in hard copy]
 

WG Soden
Principal Registrar and Chief Executive Officer
Federal Court of Australia

Family Court and Federal Circuit Court entity purpose

The objective of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court entity is to assist the respective courts to achieve their stated purposes by:

  • maintaining an environment that enables judicial officers to make determinations
  • providing effective and efficient registry services
  • effectively and efficiently managing resources
  • providing effective information and communication techniques.

Results

Performance criterion

Although a single entity for the purposes of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013, the Family Court of Australia remains a separate Chapter III court under the Australian Constitution and the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) applicable to the Court are identified in the 2015–16 Portfolio Budget Statements and in the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Corporate Plan 2015–2019.

Whilst the Court's reporting is for the single program, reporting information is provided in two streams:

  • judicial services (maintaining an environment that enables judicial officers to make determinations), and
  • registry services (provision of effective and efficient registry services.

The Court uses this approach to provide clearer reporting of its performance against its key performance indicators.

The following discusses the performance of registry services in 2015–16.

Table 3.10: Key performance indictors – registry services, 2015–16
KPIs Estimated actual
National Enquiry Centre telephone enquiries answered within 90 seconds 80%
Counter enquiries served within 20 minutes 75%
Email enquiries responded to within two working days 80%
Applications lodged processed within two working days 75%

Criterion source

  • Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Corporate Plan 2015–2019.
  • Component 1.1.3 key performance indicators, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Portfolio Budget Statements 2015–16.

Result against performance criterion

Registry services are provided to people who wish to file an application or are considering filing a family law application in the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

Registry services include:

  • provision of effective support to the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia
  • family law telephone and referral services, and
  • family law document processing.

These services are complemented by the services of the National Enquiry Centre to which all family law 1300 telephone calls, enquiry emails and live chats are received in the first instance, as well as follow up enquiries from parties or lawyers about their Family Court or Federal Circuit Court files.

During 2015–16, family law registries and the NEC provided a high level of service to clients and other users of the courts and to the judiciary of both courts. The NEC responded to increased demand in emails and calls relating to Commonwealth Courts Portal support, as well as a 30 per cent increase in the number of live chats received.

Three of the four registry services KPIs were met. The fourth KPI, with a target of 80 per cent of telephone calls to the NEC being answered in 90 seconds, was not met. The NEC continues to try to improve this area by streamlining process and introducing new initiatives such as Live Chat.

Table 11 summarises the performance of the various registry services functions of the Court against Portfolio Budget Statement KPIs from 2011–12 to 2015–16. Please note the data in this table relates to services provided for both the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court by the family law registries and the NEC.

Table 3.11: Summary of performance against registry services KPIs, 2011–12 to 2015–16
Registry Services KPIs 2011–12 result 2012–13 result 2013–14 result 2014–15 result 2015–16 result
75% of all counter enquiries are served within 20 minutes 88% 93% 92% 91% 92%
75% of applications lodged are processed within two working days 97% 97% 98% 97% 98%
80% of calls answered within 90 seconds (NEC only) 33% 21% 28% 34% 24%
80% of emails answered within two days (NEC data only) 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
Number of KPI/targets achieved 3 3 3 3 3

Analysis of performance against purpose

Family law registries

There are 19 family law registries. These are in every state and territory (except Western Australia). Family law registries provide services to both the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court.

The key functions of the registries are to:

  • provide information and advice about court procedures, services and forms, external options and referrals to community organisations that enable clients to take informed and appropriate action
  • ensure that available information is provided in an accurate and timely fashion to support the best outcome through file management and quality assurance—from the initiation of proceedings, to hearing and to archiving
  • make the best use of court time by facilitating an orderly, secure flow of clients' files and exhibits
  • enhance community confidence and respect by responding to clients' needs and assisting with making the court experience a more positive one
  • progress cases by providing administrative services in accordance with court processes and to manage external relationships to assist with the resolution of cases
  • schedule and prioritise matters for hearing and intervention to achieve the earliest resolution or determination
  • monitor and control the flow of cases, and
  • assist in the evaluation of caseloads by reporting on trends and exceptions to facilitate improvements in processes and allocation of resources.
Counter enquiries

Staff working on the counters in family law registries handle general enquiries, lodge documents relating to proceedings, provide copies of documents and/or orders and facilitate the viewing of court files and subpoenas. Registry services staff provide an efficient and effective service when dealing with litigants in person and the legal profession face-to-face at registry counters across Australia.

It is estimated that the registries dealt with 217,628 counter enquiries in 2015–16 from clients or other people seeking information face-to-face. This compared to 225,101 counter enquiries in 2014–15.

In 2015–16, an estimated 92 per cent of clients were served within 20 minutes, against a target of 75 per cent, compared to 91 per cent in 2014–15.

Document processing

Family law registries receive and process applications lodged at registry counters and in the mail. The service target of 75 per cent being processed within two working days of receipt was significantly exceeded (98 per cent of applications were processed within that timeframe).

National Enquiry Centre

The National Enquiry Centre (NEC) continued to provide family law telephone, email and Live Chat support services to the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court in 2015–16.

The NEC's responsibilities include:

  • first telephone contact to the courts via the 1300 number
  • first email contact to the courts via enquiries@familylawcourts.gov.au
  • first contact to the courts via Live Chat
  • a large proportion of telephone and email contacts from existing parties, lawyers and other court stakeholders
  • support for users of the Commonwealth Courts Portal including the Family Court of Western Australia and the Federal Court of Australia
  • after hours service
  • printing of divorce orders
  • printing of event-based fee statements
  • processing of proof of divorce requests, and
  • Twitter notifications of procedural and registry information.

Enquiries are received via three public channels: telephone via the 1300 number; emails via enquiries@familylawcourts.gov.au; and via Live Chat. The NEC's focus is to provide parties and stakeholders with appropriate information as efficiently and simply as possible through these channels.

Callers to the 1300 number are given options depending on the nature of their call. These include divorce, portal support and general enquiries. These three options are supported by agents with the skill sets required to answer the enquiry. Emails and live chats are monitored by staff trained in responding to written requests.

With the growth of portal registrations, portal support was a major factor contributing to the work of the NEC in 2015–16.

The NEC regularly refers parties to various stakeholders including the Family Relationships Advice Line (FRAL), legal aid, government agencies and community legal centres. The NEC has maintained a close relationship with FRAL and regularly consults with them.

The NEC continued its commitment to support staff in their work and encourages a collaborative work place by:

  • providing ongoing coaching and training
  • enhancing wellbeing by providing ergonomic training assessment to all staff
  • providing peer support and mentoring
  • ensuring information knowledge management systems are up-to-date, and
  • holding regular meetings with staff to provide a two-way process of information flow.

Summary of NEC performance

  • The NEC did not meet the KPI for the percentage of calls answered within 90 seconds. The NEC achieved a service level of 24 per cent which is down compared to 34 per cent last year.
  • Callers waited an average of seven minutes and 30 seconds for their call to be answered, compared to five minutes and 17 seconds in 2014–15.
  • The average time of a call was five minutes and two seconds, compared to four minutes and 22 seconds in 2014–15.
  • The NEC received a total of 286,476 calls (compared to 330,178 calls in 2014–15). Of these calls, 158,100 were queued to talk to a staff member. The 13 per cent decrease in calls to the NEC (compared with calls in 2014–15) can be attributed to better service at the first point of contact by emailed information; there being no requirement to call back; better structured and more interactive information on the websites; increased use of the Portal; and increased use of Live Chat.
  • 28,584 calls were received for Portal support. The average time for a Portal call is significantly more, as technical support is required. The average time of a Portal call is seven minutes.
  • 5352 calls (or four per cent of calls) abandoned while queued. This met the NEC's internal target of less than five per cent of calls abandoned when queued.
  • 696 calls were transferred to a family law registry by the NEC. Staff are aware of the importance of completing the transaction at the first point of contact, and only transfer calls if absolutely necessary. This represents only one per cent of calls transferred, which is significantly less than the internal target of less than 10 per cent of calls transferred to a registry.
  • 24,036 emails were sent in response to an email enquiry.
  • 73,152 emails were sent in response to a telephone enquiry, compared with 74,842 in 2014–15.
  • 12,348 proof of divorce requests were processed. This is a three per cent decrease from 2014–15.
  • 86,880 divorce orders were printed and posted to clients.
  • 178 calls were received by the After Hours Service, of which seven were actioned by a registrar. Of these, six orders were made by a judge.
  • 66,336 live chats, or an average of 261 per day, were received this year. This is a 30 per cent increase since last year.
Table 3.12: National Enquiry Centre performance, 2011–12 to 2015–16
KPIs and internal targets 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16
80% of calls answered within 90 seconds 45% 21% 28% 34% 24%
Less than 5% of calls abandoned when queued* 8% 5% 3% 3% 4%
Less than 10% of calls transferred to a registry* 1% 1% 1% 1% 1%
80% of emails answered within two days 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%

* Internal NEC target

Service Charter and Service Commitments

The aim of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court is to give clients and other users of the courts the best services they possibly can. What the courts mean by this is set out in the joint Service Charter and Service Commitments publications.

The Service Charter outlines the service level standards clients can expect from staff of the courts and how clients and other users of court services may make suggestions or complaints about services, policy, practice or procedures. An aspect of the Charter, in terms of community expectations of the courts, is that it makes clear what court staff cannot do. This is important because frequently clients or prospective clients have expectations that the courts cannot meet.

The context is that for many clients, the family courts are the only courts they will ever have anything to do with—so the processes, procedures and legal environment are completely unfamiliar and this unfamiliarity occurs at what may be one of the most stressful times of their lives because of the breakdown of family relationships. The courts appreciate this, however, must work impartially and professionally: thus the information about what people can expect but also what staff cannot do. For example, staff cannot give legal advice or tell people what words to use in their court papers or what to say in court; they cannot tell someone whether or not they should bring their case to court. Staff cannot recommend a certain lawyer to act on a client's behalf or interpret, change or enforce orders made by a judge or other judicial officer.

The Service Charter and Service Commitments publications (which summarise information about what clients of the courts can expect from client services staff, what the staff cannot do, clients rights and responsibilities and how clients can help the courts to help them) are available on www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au