Highlights

The year in review

From Chief Judge John Pascoe AC CVO

Image of Chief Judge John Pascoe AC CVO

Chief Judge John Pascoe AC CVO

The Court, once again, dealt with a very high volume of matters across its wide jurisdiction in both family law and general federal law. A total of 95,181 applications were filed. The majority of matters were filed in the family law jurisdiction (90 per cent of the total filings), followed by Migration (5.2 per cent), Bankruptcy (3.4 per cent) and Industrial Law (1.2 per cent).

In family law, the Court’s workload increased slightly from 84,920 applications in 2015–16, to 85,477 applications in 2016–17, with a clearance rate of 97 per cent. This includes family law applications filed in the Court (including final order applications, interim applications, applications in a case, divorce applications and contravention applications).

In the reporting year, 17,239 final order applications were finalised, an increase over the 16,329 finalised in 2015–16. The Court’s goal of finalising 90 per cent of final order applications within 12 months was not able to be realised. Sixty-eight per cent of final order applications were finalised within 12 months, and overall in family law, the Court finalised 78 per cent of all applications within six months of filing, and 91 per cent of matters within 12 months. This represents an outstanding effort on the part of the Court’s judges and staff.

In general federal law, the overall filing workload increased by 12 per cent from 8667 to 9704, most noticeably in migration law, which saw an increase of 40 per cent from 3544 applications to 4978 applications. More than half of this increase is the so-called ‘legacy caseload’. In 2015–16, 7920 general federal law matters were finalised. The average time taken from date of filing to finalisation was eight months – again an admirable achievement. However, I note that migration matters are now being listed for final hearing more than 18 months after the first court date. This is of great concern, particularly as a number of judges are nearing the statutory retirement age, which may mean a further delay in final hearings.

It cannot be overstated that the Court’s capacity to efficiently and effectively deal with its workload is directly impacted by the availability of adequate judicial resources.

Judge Matthew Myers AM was appointed by the Attorney-General, the Hon. Senator George Brandis QC as a Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission to head the Inquiry into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The Court is awaiting an appointment to Newcastle to replace Judge Myers. Judge Maurice Phipps retired from the Dandenong registry on 9 November 2016, having reached the statutory retirement age. The year also saw the retirement of Judge Warren Donald from the Parramatta registry. Judge Phipps and Judge Donald were among the earliest appointments to the Court and played a significant role in its initial success. The Court is currently awaiting an appointment to Melbourne to replace Judge Phipps.

Three new appointments were made to replace judges who retired: Judge Amanda Tonkin in Canberra, Judge Robert Harper in Sydney and Judge Anthony Kelly in Melbourne. They were warmly welcomed and have quickly adapted to the demands of a high-volume trial court.

The past year also saw the implementation of new administrative arrangements for the Corporate Services of the three federal courts, following commencement of the Courts Administration Legislation Amendment Act 2016. The single administrative entity is controlled by the Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar of the Federal Court of Australia.

The success of the transition was significantly assisted by the efforts of the executive team: Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar, Dr Stewart Fenwick; Deputy Principal Registrar, Ms Adele Byrne PSM; and Executive Director of Operations, Mr Steve Agnew. Their efforts have been critical to success, especially as the new administrative arrangements meant the transfer of responsibility for family law registries and the National Enquiry Centre from the Family Court of Australia to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

The Court’s executive successfully implemented the electronic court file across the general federal law jurisdictions of the Court. This significantly reduces the amount of paper used and the time spent by registry and chambers staff handling paper files. Usage of the innovative and more efficient eDivorce filings facility has doubled over the past year, and the sign, seal and upload project is progressing well, with a significant reduction in cost and workload in chambers.

The Court is very proud of the fact that it remains the only court in Australia with a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). The Court completed its first phase commitment on time and, in conjunction with Reconciliation Australia, is in the final preparatory steps for the second phase RAP. The Court’s commitment to provide a legal forum that promotes unity, belonging, identity and inclusiveness for the First Peoples of Australia is critical for any successful national reconciliation. The concept of family law and the importance of the extended family are major factors in ensuring that the values, traditions, culture, heritage and rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are preserved and promoted.

The Court’s commitment to access to justice for all Australians was further enhanced by the establishment of the Federal Circuit Court Cultural and Linguistic Diversity committee. The chair of this committee also sits on the National Judicial Council of Cultural Diversity, in order to facilitate better access to the Court by those of non-English speaking background.

I thank all members of the Court, chambers and registry staff and professional consultants for their efforts over the past year, and look forward to another busy and productive year.

Statistics at a glance

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

Family law

Filings

Finalisations

2016–17

2015–16

2016–17

2015–16

Final orders

17,791

17,523

17,239

16,329

Interim orders

22,050

21,521

21,182

20,367

Divorce applications

43,846

44,098

42,630

43,445

Other

1790

1778

1799

1758

Total family law

85,477

84,920

82,850

81,949

General federal law

Filings

Finalisations

2016–17

2015–16

2016–17

2015–16

Bankruptcy

3277

3879

3392

3841

Migration

4978

3544

3175

3192

Administrative

37

63

71

72

Admiralty

9

12

9

13

Consumer

119

77

132

59

Intellectual property

35

39

41

46

Human rights

58

75

71

76

Industrial

1191

972

1029

1009

Corporations

0

6

0

6

Total general federal law

9704

8667

7920

8314

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

Developments during 2016–17

Family law registry services

From 1 July 2016, when the budgets of the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court were split, the Federal Circuit Court took over responsibility for the delivery of family law registry services. This change was a result of a decision by the Chief Judge and Chief Justice to transfer responsibility for running the registries from the Family Court to the Federal Circuit Court. This was a separate but parallel process to the amalgamation of corporate services. Registry services for the general federal law jurisdiction continue to be provided by the Federal Court of Australia.

Corporate services merger

In the 2015–16 Budget, the Government outlined reforms that would see the corporate functions of the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court merged with the Federal Court of Australia to form a single administrative body with a single appropriation. Corporate services include Information Technology, Human Resources, Communication, Finance, Property, Risk Oversight, Procurement and Contract Management and Statistical Services. The merge commenced on 1 July 2016. The reform preserves the courts’ functional and judicial independence while pursuing efficient and effective delivery of shared corporate services. A full report on the delivery of corporate services functions, initiatives and results can be found in the Federal Court of Australia 2016–17 annual report.

Chambers’ staff induction program

On 18 January 2017, Chief Judge Pascoe and Dr Stewart Fenwick launched the FCC Chambers’ Staff Induction Program.

From 1 February 2017, the completion of this induction program is compulsory for all new FCC Chambers’ staff and is to be completed within their first four weeks. It covers the legislative framework for employment, governance structures within the Court, rights and responsibilities as Australian Public Servants and members of the Court, as well as practical aspects of employment such as work in the courtroom and in chambers.

The induction program is the direct result of the survey of associates and deputy associates undertaken in June 2015 and addresses an important need raised by staff in the survey. It also reflects Court’s commitment to the International Framework for Court Excellence which recognises ‘The most important resources of the courts are its personnel, the judges and court staff’.

The program was developed by a project team consisting of associates, team leaders and registry managers and was tested by a larger group of associates and deputy associates from across the country. It is a good repository for valuable information and can be updated in real time as structural and practical changes are made.

Simplifying payment options in registries

In June 2014, the then Court Management Advisory Group provided in principle support to explore the removal of cash and cheques as payment options for fees and charges in all court registries. As a result, the Cash and Receipting Working Party was created to explore the requirements and develop an implementation plan and communication strategy.

Registries went cashless in July 2015 and cheque and money order payments were phased out on 1 March 2017.

There are a number of ways that clients and solicitors can make payments to the courts:

  • Filing fees can be paid online via credit/debit card (Visa and Mastercard) when efiling at www.comcourts.gov.au.
  • Lawyers and law firms can set up a direct debit account for the payment of filing fees by completing the direct debit request form.
  • Court event fees can be paid online via credit/debit card (Visa and Mastercard) at  www.eservices.comcourts.gov.au using the secure online payment system.
  • Payment for all fees can be made in registries via eftpos (CHQ or SAV), credit/debit card (Visa and Mastercard) or by mail using credit/debit card (Visa and Mastercard) by completing the credit card payment form.

Online divorce

Significant work was undertaken by the Court in 2016–17 to develop a fully electronic divorce file (EDF). The implementation of an EDF was rolled out to all registries throughout September and October 2016. This move is a significant shift away from paper filing to eFiling using the interactive online form in the Commonwealth Courts Portal (www.comcourts.gov.au). For more information on the EDF see the in focus article on page 20.

Sign, seal and upload: the move to digital court orders

As part of the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court’s commitment to the Government’s digital continuity policy, the courts are changing the way court orders are accessed.

The move to completely digital court orders is being rolled out in two stages:

  1. From 1 July 2017, the courts will no longer post hard copies of sealed orders by mail to legal representatives. All court orders (except consent and appeal) will be signed and sealed electronically and available to download from the Commonwealth Courts Portal (www.comcourts.gov.au).
  2. From 1 January 2018 this will be extended to all self-represented and other parties, meaning that all court orders will be available to download from the Commonwealth Courts Portal.

These changes provide for faster and more secure delivery of court orders. Other benefits include:

  • instant access to complete court files and court orders online anytime via www.comcourts.gov.au
  • safe and secure delivery of orders, and
  • no cost to get copies of sealed orders in future. They will always be available to download from the Portal for free.

More information can be found at http://www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fccweb/about/news/court-orders-are-going-digital

Family Advocacy and Support Services (FASS)

The Australian Government is providing funding over three years from 2016–19 to legal aid commissions to establish front-line family violence support services in family law registries and other locations across Australia.

The key components of this initiative are to:

  • increase the capacity of existing duty lawyer services in family law registries, and
  • introduce integrated family violence support services to help families affected by family violence with matters before the family law courts.

FASS has now been established in selected family law registries.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice

The 2016–17 year was another active year for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice Committee. Judges on the committee from all around Australia continue to initiate and coordinate meetings, events and activities set out in the RAP.

A particular focus in 2016 was the renewal of the Court’s RAP which involved a workshop with Reconciliation Australia and renewed energy being directed to focus the next RAP on projects that will improve the Court’s relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and promote the Court’s engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around Australia.

The activities of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice Committee would not be possible without the ongoing support and assistance of other judges, associates and deputy associates and registry managers and staff.

National Reconciliation Week events 2017

The work of the Committee is achieving success as illustrated by the occurrence of significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural events that are now routinely celebrated by judges and court staff all around Australia.

This year saw the following events being celebrated during Reconciliation Week:

  • Dandenong: hosted an internal afternoon tea with the staff to celebrate reconciliation.
  • Darwin: Judge Young hosted a National Reconciliation Week morning tea on 30 May 2017. The event was attended by 25 people in the Darwin registry and a number of people attended by telephone from Alice Springs. A Welcome to Country was given by Jeanneen McLennan, a member of the Larrakia community.
  • Adelaide: Judge Kelly hosted an afternoon tea for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from Adelaide Law School, Flinders University and University of South Australia. Judge Kelly gave an overview of the Federal Circuit Court, discussed the FCC’s RAP and discussed the Court’s commitment to establishing links with Indigenous students studying law.
  • Sydney: Judge Kemp and Judge Sexton hosted a morning tea which was attended by a wide range of guests from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and stakeholder groups. The Sydney registry is honoured to be on Gadigal land and the Welcome to Country was given by Uncle Ray Davison from the Metropolitan Land Council. They were fortunate to have Allan Clarke, a journalist at SBS network (including NITV) as the keynote speaker. He shared some of his experiences growing up as an indigenous person in a family impacted by the stolen generation.
  • Wollongong: Judge Altobelli hosted an afternoon tea on Dharawal Land, and the Welcome to Country was undertaken by local elder, Uncle Richard Davis from the Illawarra Aboriginal Corporation. Members from the local community attended along with members of the legal profession supporting the message of reconciliation.
  • Parramatta: hosted a morning tea, with a Welcome to Country given by Aunty Julie Jones. Presentations were given by Judge Harman with special keynote speaker, Professor Cindy Blackstock from the First Nations Caring Society Ottawa, Canada. The event was well supported by community members and local professionals and registry staff.
  • Townsville: Judge Coker hosted a Reconciliation morning tea for Indigenous Leaders and Elders from government and community-based organisations, including Indigenous law students from James Cook University.
  • Melbourne: Judges hosted a morning tea in recognition of National Reconciliation week. Judge Williams welcomed judges, staff and guests with an Acknowledgment of Country. Judge Small AM provided an overview of the Court and its continuing commitment to Reconciliation. The Court was graced with guests from Reconciliation Victoria, the Indigenous Law Students and Lawyers Association, Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service and the Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre.
  • Newcastle: Judge Terry and Judge Kelly who was visiting from the Adelaide hosted a morning tea with special guests from the community representing “ Grandmothers Against Removal”. Also present were a number of court staff and staff from the Aboriginal Legal Service. Much of the discussion touched on the differences which existed between the Court’s family law jurisdiction and the various state courts Children’s Court’s processes. The special guests also shared their own stories and experiences with family members who have had dealings with the Court system.
  • Cairns: Judge Willis hosted a morning tea in recognition of National Reconciliation Week inviting local Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander legal services and lawyers, court employees, and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community legal services. The special guest speaker was Harriet David a young Aboriginal woman who ran as part of the deadly runners at the New York marathon (part of the Robert De Castella Indigenous Marathon program). Harriet shared her story of the endurance required to run the New York marathon and she has since run the Paris marathon. Harriet also shared her personal challenges and her hopes for the future. Her talk was immensely inspiring.
  • Brisbane: Judge Willis hosted a morning tea (as Judge Coates was on leave) to celebrate National Reconciliation Week and gave an address to the gathering regarding the progress of the RAP. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander guests included Colleen Wall who has served on the Family Law Council and who is head of Aqua Dreaming grandmother’s group, Debra Bennett the head of Indigenous programs for Relationships Australia Queensland, Indigenous lawyers and elders, and registry staff and other judges.

NAIDOC 2017

Similarly, NAIDOC events have been held or attended by judges and court staff at registries around Australia.

  • Dandenong: Judge Phipps sponsored a display in the registry which contained the history of the week, the Court’s RAP and information relating to the Aboriginal culture and heritage in the greater Dandenong area.
  • Sydney: Child Dispute Services hosted a lunchtime event which was catered by a local Indigenous catering business. A trivia quiz was held, testing and educating all present about the contribution that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make to Australia.
  • Brisbane: a morning tea was held where staff were able to provide a gold coin donation that was passed on to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation to support literacy in remote Australia. Judge Purdon Sully attended the launch of the RAP of Queensland Law Society on behalf of the Court.
  • Cairns: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Liaison Officer Dennis Remedio organised a stall at the local NAIDOC celebrations with Cairns Family Consultant Dr Stacey McGuiness and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services. The objective was to raise awareness of the Court and launch the new court brochure outlining parenting orders and contact details of local Indigenous Legal Services.
Judge Myers AM with the message stick at the UN Permanent Forum in New York.

Judge Myers AM with the message stick at the UN Permanent Forum in New York.

Other events

Judges on the Committee around Australia have held events to provide opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander law students to meet judges, Indigenous lawyers and other lawyers from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services . This was to provide encouragement in their legal studies and provide opportunities to make connections with the profession which will hopefully assist with work experience or employment upon graduation.

The Court continues to engage an Indigenous Liaison Officer, Dennis Remedio, in Cairns to assist with each parenting application filed involving an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander litigant. Dennis also assists with other matters from time to time in North Queensland or other areas in Queensland.

This year the Committee and the Court has been assisted by Trent Shepherd, who has worked with the Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar, Dr Stewart Fenwick, in helping to promote relationships between the Court and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community groups and Law Faculties of various Universities.

Trent has also been able to attend significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander events such as the 20th Anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report (released 1997). Trent has worked to assist the Committee and the Court support the principles of the RAP in various ways including by creating a pathway between the Court and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in various registries. This has significantly helped the Court to achieve its goal of improving Access to Justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander litigants.

In furtherance of this goal, Judge Robyn Sexton has been managing a pilot program of a specific Indigenous List run in the Sydney registry. Judge Sexton has directed her judicial experience into conducting the list in a less formal sitting and invited other interested members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to observe and understand the difference between the family law system and the child protection system. Judge Sexton is encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services and relevant community groups to engage in this pilot.

In Parramatta registry, the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) has an onsite duty service present on each week day.

Other steps are being introduced as part of the next RAP specifically designed to improve the Court’s reach to elders and grandmothers in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as these connections can be pivotal in dealing with parenting applications with parents and kin carers.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice committee is proud to note that committee member Judge Matthew Myers AM has been appointed as an ALRC Commissioner leading the inquiry into the incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Court’s message stick continued its journey with visits to communities in Redfern, Wollongong and Newcastle. The aim of the stick is to stimulate a national discussion about the sensitive issues of child abuse, neglect and the rates of removal of Aboriginal children from their families. It will continue to travel to various locations and events over the year.

Judges on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee continue to mentor and engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander law students and community members and to give presentations promoting the work of the Court and the ideals of the RAP.

The Reconciliation Action Plan 2014–2016 was the first to be developed by an Australian court. Judge Willis, chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice Committee, together with other judges and representatives of the Court, have worked with Reconciliation Australia to develop the second RAP. It is anticipated that this RAP will be signed and launched in the second half of 2017.

Court initiatives

International Framework for Court Excellence – a reflection

Background

The Federal Circuit Court has publicly confirmed its commitment to the International Framework for Court Excellence (IFCE) and established a committee of judges to drive the implementation of the Framework. Judge Michael Jarrett was selected to chair this committee and to steer the work and provide advice to the Chief Judge John Pascoe AC CVO and his Policy Advisory Group.

What is the IFCE?

The IFCE was put together by an international consortium consisting of groups and organisations from Europe, Asia, Australia and the United States and was originally launched in 2008. The goal of the Consortium’s effort has been the development of a framework of values, concepts and tools by which courts worldwide can voluntarily assess and improve the quality of justice and court administration they deliver no matter where the court is based.

An attraction of this framework is that it has been conceived for courts by courts. As a result, it is not a managerial system superimposed on judges. Rather, it is a model refined for the unique elements of judicial administration. Crucially, the principle of judicial independence is fundamental to it.

The framework provides a resource for assessing a court’s performance against seven detailed areas which are thought necessary for a court to be truly excellent. It provides clear guidance for courts intending to improve their performance and it provides a model methodology for continuous evaluation and improvement that is specifically designed for use by courts. It also builds upon a range of recognised organisational improvement principles while reflecting the special needs and issues that courts face.

Self-assessment

In 2013, the Court conducted the IFCE self-assessment which was issued to all judges and all staff. The survey results were published in a substantive report in 2014.

Improvements were identified in areas such as judicial development and professional development for administrative staff; business processes and practices around the dispatch of the Court’s business; communication both within the Court and with court users; and measures to support the health and wellbeing of judges and court staff who regularly work long hours and who have high volume workloads.

Achievements

Some of the major achievements to date include:

  • analysis and improvement of business practices and processes in chambers
  • improved training for judges particularly regarding technology
  • better judicial induction process/judicial welfare emphasis
  • improved internal communication processes
  • continued court user surveys
  • ongoing investment in staff development
  • improved strategies to support self-represented litigants
  • a new more responsive website
  • more effective transactional processes with the Court, and
  • better strategies for regular and effective communication about matters concerned with court users and in particular more effective consideration of court user feedback to the Court.

Challenges and learnings

Challenges identified by the Court in implementing the IFCE include:

  • implementation takes time in such a busy court
  • the process must be regarded as long term and not a ‘quick fix’
  • keeping the momentum going is a challenge
  • work needs to be integrated into the mainstream business of the Court and not be a ‘special project’ off to the side, and
  • scarce public funding, competition for funding and the bedding down of a series of significant changes resulting from the Court’s changed administrative structure are contextual factors for the Court.

Access and inclusion

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

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

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

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

Twitter

Twitter logo

On 19 October 2016, the Federal Circuit Court joined an expanding number of Australian courts that have embraced the use of social media as it announced the official commencement of its Twitter account at the National Family Law Conference.

With many litigants representing themselves at various stages of their case, the Court has a wide range of fact sheets to assist self-represented litigants. Links to that information will be tweeted, as well as:

  • Judgments, reports and publications
  • Legislative news – changes to rules, practice directions, forms or fee updates
  • Commonwealth Courts Portal news, and
  • Media releases and statements.  

Since the launch, the Court has:

  • gained 560 new followers
  • sent 220 tweets, made up of 18 plain text, 113 page links and 89 photo links – an average of over six tweets per week
  • was re-tweeted 215 times, and
  • received 92 mentions.

Follow the Court on Twitter https://twitter.com/FedCctCourtAU

YouTube

YouTube logo

The Federal Circuit Court’s YouTube channel has been operating since October 2013. There are a range of videos available to help litigants prepare for and understand court processes.

There are six videos on the channel; combined there has been 127,056 minutes watched and 33,802 views.

The top three videos are: How to apply for divorce: serving divorce papers; eFiling your family law matter in the Commonwealth Courts Portal and Court Tour.

Enhancements to the Court’s ‘How do I…?’ information webpages, including changes to how the ‘eFiling your family law matter in the Commonwealth Courts Portal’ video is embedded and viewed from within the webpages have been very successful with steady growth in views of that video during the reporting period (see below).

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

Online proof of divorce

An online proof of divorce request process was introduced in March 2015 to streamline the process for people wanting to obtain a copy of their divorce order from the courts. The process involves a person completing an online interactive form and submitting payment online by credit card. The Court then provides an original copy of the divorce.

The process has been very successful and to date 28,448 requests have been made since the online interactive from was introduced.

This has also streamlined and reduced the amount of back office paperwork and time to process the requests.

Live Chat

Link to live chat
Need help with Family Law? Chat Online

Live Chat was launched on the courts’ websites in April 2014. Live Chat is a cost effective and easily manageable channel of communication. Staff can multi-task and manage up to four conversations at once and it also provides a convenient way for clients to access the courts and engage with client service officers.

  • There have been 210,089 live chats since its launch
  • The NEC is now averaging 370 live chats per day
  • Portal support and applying for a divorce are the most popular Live Chat topics.

Community relationships and consultation

Liaison with the Law Council of Australia

During the year, the Federal Circuit Court and the Law Council of Australia Liaison Committee met two times.

This committee comprises the Chief Judge and other representatives from the Court, with representatives from the Law Council of Australia. The committee considers issues pertaining to the general federal law jurisdiction of the Court. In particular, the committee considered issues such as:

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

Liaison with the Family Law Section Regional Committee

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

The Family Law Section Regional Committee is made up of representatives from around Australia. Meetings were conducted via telephone links, with practitioners well represented. Discussions covered a range of matters including the practices associated with attendance at court (by telephone) by litigants and practitioners in remote locations.

Ongoing engagement with local community-based organisations, community forums, law societies, family law pathway networks, volunteer networks, other government agencies, including many at the State level, was again a priority of registries in 2016–17.

Regular consultation also provides registries with feedback about users’ experiences of registry services and the courts. This leads to service improvements and ensures that the Court is better placed to assist litigants.

For more information see Appendix 5.

Changes in 2017–18

Sign, seal and upload

Phase two of the move to completely digital court orders will commence from 1 January 2018 when the service will be extended to all self-represented and other parties. From this date all court orders will be available to download from the Commonwealth Courts Portal.

Improvements to digital services

In line with the Government’s Digital Transformation Agenda, the Court will continue to identify opportunities to expand the use of online services to integrate court user needs, improve access and reduce cost.

Expand the capability of the NEC

Review demands on NEC and registry staff by better understanding court user needs.

Apply for divorce online

In focus: Electronic divorce

All divorce applications are now filed in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. While eFiling has been available for divorce applications for some time, significant work was undertaken in 2016–17 to develop a fully electronic divorce file (EDF).

The EDF is a key priority in the Registry Service Delivery Strategy 2014–2019 and aligns with the Commonwealth Government initiative to move to digital information and records management. It also aims to simplify the administrative process for both litigants and the Court.

A pilot of the EDF commenced in the Brisbane registry in February 2016 followed by other Queensland locations. Due to its success, the implementation of an EDF was rolled out to all registries throughout September and October 2016.

Moving to a fully EDF is a significant shift away from paper filing to eFiling using the interactive online form in the Commonwealth Courts Portal.

eFiling has many benefits:

  • no need to visit or queue at registries
  • filing fee payments are processed securely online
  • 24/7 access to court files
  • less chance for errors in applications (step-by-step guide)
  • option to select the most suitable court date, and
  • option to receive email notifications and alerts about the status of matters.

As part of this strategy the How do I… apply for divorce? web page was redeveloped as a dynamic interactive page to assist clients with applying for divorce electronically, and new How do I… register for the Commonwealth Courts Portal and eFile an application for divorce? were also launched.

The Application for Divorce Kit is no longer available on the website. Clients who for some reason (e.g. no internet, no credit card, fee reduction for financial hardship, no printer/scanner) cannot eFile their divorce application, can contact the National Enquiry Centre to request an electronic or hard copy of the kit.

New analytical tools have been developed to identify the numbers and reasons for litigants not being able to complete a divorce application online. These will assist the Court in better understanding the user experience and further develop the EDF.

The EDF initiative also provides savings in operational costs which is important in the current financial environment.

Since the national rollout of the EDF, the eFiling rate for divorce has increased from 20 per cent of divorce applications filed in 2014–15 to 66 per cent in the last quarter of 2016–17.