About the Court

The Federal Circuit Court of Australia was established by the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999 (the Act) as an independent federal court under Chapter III of the Australian Constitution. Prior to 12 April 2013, under the Federal Magistrates Act 1999, the Court was known as the Federal Magistrates Court and its judicial officers as federal magistrates. The Court was established to handle less complex matters in the areas of family law and general federal law.

The Court sits in all capital cities, selected major regional centres and circuits to a number of regional locations. The Court is a federal court of record and a court of law and equity.

There were three appointments in 2016–17: Judge Amanda Tonkin to Canberra registry; Judge Robert Harper to Sydney registry and Judge Anthony Kelly to Melbourne registry.

Objective

The objective of the Court is to provide a simple and more accessible alternative to litigation in the Family Court of Australia (Family Court) and the Federal Court of Australia (Federal Court) and to relieve the workload of the superior federal courts.

The provisions of the Act enable the Court to operate as informally as possible in the exercise of judicial power, use streamlined procedures and make use of a range of dispute resolution processes to resolve matters without judicial decisions.

Jurisdiction

The jurisdiction of the Court includes family law and child support and the following areas of general federal law: administrative law, admiralty law, bankruptcy, consumer law (formerly trade practices), human rights, industrial, intellectual property, migration and privacy. The Court shares these jurisdictions with the Family Court (in respect of family law and child support) and the Federal Court (in respect of general federal law).

Family law and child support

The Court exercises all aspects of jurisdiction in the Family Law Act 1975 with the exception of adoption and applications for nullity or validity of marriage. The Court has the same jurisdiction as the Family Court in relation to child support.

This includes:

  • applications for divorce
  • applications concerning spousal maintenance
  • property disputes (including de facto jurisdiction)
  • all parenting orders, including those providing for where a child lives, who a child spends time and communicates with, and maintenance or specific issues
  • enforcement of orders made by either the Federal Circuit Court or the Family Court
  • location and recovery orders as well as warrants for the apprehension or detention of a child, and
  • determination of parentage and recovery of child-bearing expenses.

Jurisdiction upon transfer from the Family Court

The Court also has jurisdiction to hear any matter within the jurisdiction of the Family Court which the Family Court transfers to the Federal Circuit Court.

General federal law

The Court deals with a wide range of matters, sharing jurisdiction with the Federal Court and, in some cases, state courts. The Court’s rules and procedures are simpler and less formal and aim to reduce the cost and number of court appearances.

The Court can hear and decide matters relating to administrative law, admiralty law, bankruptcy, consumer law (formerly trade practices), human rights, industrial, intellectual property, migration and privacy and any matter transferred from the Federal Court. Where the Court has jurisdiction in a matter, it also has jurisdiction to determine associated or inseverable claims which would otherwise not be within jurisdiction.

Following is more information about the Court’s jurisdiction in these various areas of general federal law.

Administrative

  • Matters under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977.
  • Judicial review of ‘child support first reviews’ under section 44AAA of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975 (provided that the decision does not involve a presidential member.
  • Appeals from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal remitted from the Federal Court.

Admiralty

  • In personam actions (claims against a specific person or company) such as freight claims, damage claims and seafarers’ wages.
  • In rem actions remitted by the Federal Court and state supreme courts.

Bankruptcy

All civil claims and matters under the Bankruptcy Act 1966, except those requiring jury trials.

Consumer

The Court has jurisdiction with respect to claims under the following provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (formerly the Trade Practices Act 1974):

  • 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).

The Court can provide injunctive relief and award damages up to $750,000.

In relation to certain claims for $40,000 or less, litigants can elect to use the small claims procedure of the Court.

The Court also has civil jurisdiction with respect to claims under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009.

There is provision in certain proceedings for a litigant to elect that an application for compensation be dealt with as a small claims proceeding.

Human rights

Federal unlawful discrimination matters under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 relating to complaints under the:

  • Age Discrimination Act 2004
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984

Industrial

The Federal Circuit Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Court for matters under the:

  • Fair Work Act 2009
  • Fair Work (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 2009, and
  • Workplace Relations Act 1996 (in so far as it continues to apply).

This jurisdiction is to be exercised by the Fair Work Division of the Court.

The Fair Work Act 2009 confers small claims jurisdiction on the Court for various matters if the compensation is not more than $20,000.

The Court also has some jurisdiction in relation to certain matters under the Independent Contractors Act 2006 and the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 and the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016.

Intellectual property (including copyright, trade mark and design)

Copyright — Copyright Act 1968

Civil claims and matters under Parts V, VAA, IX and section 248J of the Copyright Act 1968, such as claims for injunctions and damages for breach of copyright.

Trade Marks — Trade Marks Act 1995

  • Appeals from decisions of the Registrar of Trade Marks: ss.35,56, 67, 83(2), 83A(8), 84A–84D and 104
  • Infringement actions ss.120–128 and under ss.129 and 130
  • Revocation of registration under ss.88 and 89
  • Decision on whether a person has used a trade mark under s.7 Determining whether Trade Mark has become Generic: ss.24, 87 and 89 Amendment or Cancellation of Registration under ss.85 and 86 Application for an Order to Remove a Trade Mark Registration for Non Use: s.92(3)
  • Application for rectification of Register by order of court under s.181, and
  • Variation of rules governing use of certification trade mark under s.182.

Design — Designs Act 2003

  • Appeals from Decisions of the Registrar of Designs: ss.28(5), 67(4), 68(6), 50(6), 52(7) and 54(4)
  • Ability to make a determination of the entitled person during proceedings before the Court under s.53
  • Infringement actions under ss.71–76
  • Applications for Relief from Unjustified Threats under ss.77–81
  • Application for Compulsory Licences under s.90–92
  • Revocation of Registration under s.93
  • For Crown use provisions, provide a determination of the term of use of a design under s.98
  • Application for a declaration by a court of any Crown use under s.101
  • Application for the cessation of Crown use of a design under s.102, and
  • Rectification of Register under s.120. D.

Migration

Most first instance judicial reviews of visa-related decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA). The Court does not have jurisdiction to undertake a merits review of these types of decisions.

Privacy

Enforcing determinations of the Privacy Commissioner and private sector adjudicators under the Privacy Act 1988.

Jurisdiction upon transfer from the Federal Court

The Court also has jurisdiction to hear any matter within the jurisdiction of the Federal Court which the Federal Court transfers to the Federal Circuit Court.

Changes to the Court’s jurisdiction during 2016–17

The following Acts impacted on the jurisdiction of the Court.

National Cancer Screening Register Act 2016

Establishes the National Cancer Screening Register, a national electronic infrastructure for the collection, storage, analysis and reporting of cancer screen program data for the National Cervical Screening Program and the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program; authorises the collection, use and disclosure of information for the purposes of the register; creates an offence for the unauthorised disclosure of information; and mandates reporting of screening information to the register. It makes the Federal Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia relevant courts, in relation to civil penalties, for the purposes of the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Act 2014 (Cth). Relevant provisions commenced 21 October 2016.

Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1) 2016

An Act to amend the law relating to counter-terrorism and for related purposes: Amends the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) to make judges of the Federal Court of Australia or of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia an issuing authority for continued preventative detention orders; and amends the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) to provide that the Federal Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia have jurisdiction in relation to proceedings for compensation for damage to electronic equipment, or data recorded on the equipment and compensation for damage or corruption of programs associated with the use of the equipment or data, arising from the exercise of constables powers under the related provisions. Relevant provisions commenced 30 November 2016.

Budget Savings (Omnibus) Act 2016

The Act amends the National Health Reform Act 2011 (Cth) abolishing the National Health Performance Authority. The transitional provisions provide that the Federal Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia have jurisdiction in relation to proceedings for compensation arising from the abolition. Relevant provisions commenced 1 November 2016.

Amends the Aged Care Act 1997 (Cth) making the Federal Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia relevant courts, in relation to civil penalties, for the purposes of the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Act 2014 (Cth). Relevant provisions commenced 1 January 2017.

Amends A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth), Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 (Cth), Social Security Act 1991 (Cth), Student Assistance Act 1973 (Cth), giving the Federal Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia jurisdiction to hear appeals against the making of departure prohibition orders. Relevant provisions commenced 1 January 2017.

VET Student Loans Act 2016

Part of a package of three bills to replace the VET FEE-HELP loan scheme with a student loans program: The Bill provides for an enhanced compliance and regulatory framework by triggering all the powers under the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Act 2014 (Cth). This includes monitoring and investigation powers and enforcement provisions such as civil penalties, infringement notices, enforceable undertakings and injunctions. It makes the Federal Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia relevant courts for the purposes of all of these powers under the Regulatory Powers Act. Relevant provisions commenced 1 January 2017.

Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Act 2016

Amends the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Cth), giving the Federal Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia jurisdiction for civil remedies arising in relation to reprisals. Relevant provisions commenced 2 May 2017.

Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Jobs for Families Child Care Package) Act 2017

Amends A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth), making the Federal Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia relevant courts in relation to civil penalties and monitoring powers for the purposes of the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Act 2014 (Cth), and in relation to monitoring powers (for the purposes of the Regulatory Powers Act), providing that judges of either court are issuing officers. Relevant provisions will commence 2 July 2018.

Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016 and the Building and Construction Industry (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Act 2016

The Court originally exercised some jurisdiction under the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act 2005, however that jurisdiction ceased as from 1 June 2012 when that Act was replaced by the Work (Building Industry) Act 2012. Following passage of the substantive parts of the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016 together with the Building and Construction Industry (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Act 2016 on 1 December 2016, the Australian Building and Construction Commission was revived in place of the Office of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate. Coercion in the building and construction industry is now unlawful under provisions of the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016 and the general protections provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 and both the Federal Court and the Federal Circuit Court have jurisdiction.

Parliamentary Business Resources Act 2017

Introduced with the Parliamentary Business Resources (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Act 2017 to establish a new framework governing the use of public resources by members of Parliament, the bill consolidates much of the existing parliamentary work expenses framework and imposes greater obligations concerning the use of public resources. It will vest the Federal Circuit Court of Australia with jurisdiction (concurrently with the Federal Court of Australia) to grant an injunction and/or order payment of compensation in relation to a contravention of the relevant Commonwealth Procurement Rules (CPRs), so far as those rules relate to a covered procurement.

The Act received Royal Assent on 19 May 2016 and commenced 12 months after that date.

Amendments to the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001

There has been no amendment to the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 during the reporting period.

Amendments to the Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2016

There has been no amendment to the Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2016 during the reporting period.

Amendments to Fee Regulations

There are two fee regulations which apply to proceedings in the Court. One for general federal law proceedings and one for family law proceedings:

  • Family Law (Fees) Regulation 2012, and
  • Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court Regulation 2012

There is provision in these Regulations for a biennial increase and there was such an increase which took effect from 1 July 2016.

Fee increases to items 103, 104, 209 and 210 of Schedule 1 of the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court Regulation 2012 (applications in relation to dismissals in contravention of Part 3–1 of the Fair Work Act 2009) are calculated in accordance with regulations 3.02 and 3.03 of the Fair Work Regulations 2009.

Family Law (Fees) Regulation 2012

There were no amendments to the Regulation during the reporting period.

Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court Regulation 2012

This Regulation was amended by the Courts Administration (Consequential Amendments) Regulation 2016, to substitute the Regulation 1.03 (definition of Registrar). This commenced on 1 July 2016.

Organisational structure

Organisational structure of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia

 Image of the Federal Circuit Court Organisation Chart

Judicial officers

Judges are appointed by the Governor-General by commission as justices in accordance with Chapter III of the Australian Constitution. A judge is appointed for a term expiring when they reach the age of 70 years.

Section 8 of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999 provides that the Court consists of a Chief Judge and such other judges as appointed.

At 30 June 2017, 64 judges held appointment to the Court (including the Chief Judge). This includes Judge Myers who is currently on secondment as the Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into the incarceration rate of Indigenous Australians. More detail on judicial officers can be found at Appendix 2.

Note: The remuneration arrangements for all judicial officers and the Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar are governed by enforceable determinations of the Remuneration Tribunal. Further details including relevant determinations are available at www.remtribunal.gov.au

Details of the judges follow in the table below:

Table 2.1: Federal Circuit Court Judges, 30 June 2017

Chief Judge

Location

Appointment date

John Pascoe AC CVO

Sydney

14 July 2004

Judge

Location

Appointment date

Christine Mead

Adelaide

13 June 2000

Michael Baumann AM

Brisbane

19 June 2000

Norah Hartnett

Melbourne

19 June 2000

John Coker

Townsville

26 June 2000

Rolf Driver

Sydney

31 July 2000

Stewart Brown

Adelaide

5 November 2001

Shenagh Barnes

Sydney

5 November 2001

Michael Jarrett

Brisbane

2 February 2004

Sylvia Emmett

Sydney

5 July 2004

Grant Riethmuller

Melbourne

19 July 2004

Nick Nicholls

Sydney

23 August 2004

Robyn Sexton

Sydney

27 September 2004

Kevin Lapthorn

Brisbane

29 August 2005

Louise Henderson

Sydney

28 November 2005

Kate Hughes

Canberra

30 January 2006

Heather Riley

Melbourne

3 July 2006

Philip Burchardt

Melbourne

10 July 2006

John O’Sullivan

Melbourne

10 July 2006

Antoni Lucev

Perth

14 August 2006

Robert Cameron

Sydney

3 October 2006

Tom Altobelli

Sydney

13 November 2006

Stephen Coates

Brisbane

27 November 2006

Leanne Spelleken

Brisbane

11 December 2006

Charlotte Kelly

Adelaide

12 March 2007

Janet Terry

Newcastle

10 April 2007

Warwick Neville

Canberra

2 July 2007

Dale Kemp

Sydney

4 July 2007

Paul Howard

Brisbane

9 July 2007

Susan Purdon-Sully

Brisbane

15 October 2007

Margaret Cassidy

Brisbane

5 November 2007

Evelyn Bender

Melbourne

15 September 2008

Anne Demack

Rockhampton

22 September 2008

Terry McGuire

Launceston

6 October 2008

David Dunkley

Parramatta

13 October 2008

Barbara Baker

Hobart

27 October 2008

Geoffrey Monahan

Sydney

3 November 2008

Peter Cole

Adelaide

24 November 2008

Josephine Willis

Cairns

27 January 2009

Joseph Harman

Parramatta

7 June 2010

Leanne Turner

Brisbane

7 June 2010

*Matthew Myers AM

Newcastle

23 January 2012

Ron Curtain

Melbourne

23 January 2012

Alexandra Harland

Melbourne

15 April 2013

Judith Small

Melbourne

15 April 2013

Suzanne Jones

Melbourne

3 June 2013

Nicholas Manousaridis

Sydney

1 July 2013

Joanne Stewart

Melbourne

2 September 2013

Alexander Street

Sydney

1 January 2015

Salvatore Vasta

Brisbane

1 January 2015

Justin Smith

Sydney

27 January 2015

Ian Newbrun

Parramatta

4 February 2015

Tony Young

Darwin

31 July 2015

Joshua Wilson

Melbourne

2 November 2015

Steven Middleton

Newcastle

9 November 2015

Timothy Heffernan

Adelaide

23 November 2015

Philip Dowdy

Sydney

7 December 2015

Elizabeth Boyle

Sydney

29 February 2016

Jillian Williams

Melbourne

29 February 2016

Alister McNab

Melbourne

18 May 2016

Brana Obradovic

Parramatta

30 May 2016

Amanda Tonkin

Canberra

1 January 2017

Robert Harper

Sydney

18 January 2017

Anthony Kelly

Melbourne

6 February 2017

* Judge Myers is currently on secondment as the Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into the incarceration rate of Indigenous Australians.

Appointments and retirements, 2016–17

There were three appointments and four retirements during the 2016–17 reporting period.

Appointments

  • Judge Amanda Tonkin was appointed on 1 January 2017
  • Judge Robert Harper was appointed on 18 January 2017
  • Judge Anthony Kelly was appointed on 6 February 2017.

Judge Amanda Tonkin

Judge Robert Harper

Judge Anthony Kelly

Retirements

  • Judge Jim Brewster retired on 15 July 2016
  • Judge Stephen Scarlett OAM RFD retired on 28 July 2016
  • Judge Maurice Phipps retired on 9 November 2016
  • Judge Warren Donald resigned on 31 March 2017.

Judge Jim Brewster

Judge Stephen Scarlett
OAM RFD

Judge Maurice Phipps

Judge Warren Donald

Other appointments

Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission

In February 2017, Judge Matthew Myers AM was announced as the Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) inquiry into the incarceration rate of Indigenous Australians.

He has been tasked with examining the factors leading to the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in our prison system and to consider reforms to the law to ameliorate this.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 27 per cent of Australia’s prison population, despite only being three per cent of Australia’s national population.

The terms of reference are available on the Attorney-General’s website: ag.gov.au/Consultations/Pages/Australian-Law-Reform-Commission-inquiry-into-incarceration-rate-of-Indigenous-Australians.aspx

The ALRC will examine the laws, frameworks and institutions and broader contextual factors that lead to the disturbing over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our prison system.

The ALRC will report to the Government by 22 December 2017.

Judge Paul Howard announced as Fulbright Scholar

In March 2017 Judge Paul Howard was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to undertake research on the issue of access to justice.

As part of his research, Judge Howard will examine the American system of federal court funding whereby the courts deal directly with the Senate and the House of Representatives to secure appropriate funding each year.

“The aim of my research is to improve access to justice – not only in the capital cities but in rural and regional Australia. The Federal Circuit Court has implemented a judicial docket system and case management practices which assist in the timely disposition of the Court’s workload. The Court has always been at the cutting edge of case management in Australia and my research will focus on new and innovative ways for the Court to efficiently finalise cases.”

Judge Howard will commence his Fulbright Scholarship in 2018 and will be based at the Federal Judicial Center in Washington DC and also at Harvard University.

In focus: Court Network

The Court Network (CN) is a frontline community organisation that supports court users to access the court system. CN’s role is complementary to that provided by legal and other services within the courts and tribunals system.

CN focuses on the needs of people at court by providing non-legal support, information and appropriate referrals to services such as family violence, housing, mental health, community legal centres and by empowering and increasing the confidence of court users to manage the requirements of the courts.

CN’s service is delivered by approximately 300 trained volunteers (called ‘Networkers’) who provide tailored, impartial and non-judgmental support. It is an important component of access to justice, particularly for more vulnerable and disadvantaged court users, who may be attending court for the first time and are unfamiliar with court rules and processes.

In Victoria, the service operates out of 28 court precincts, including all CBD courts, VCAT and the Coroners Court and a number of metropolitan and regional Magistrates’ Courts. Since 1990, CN has been delivering a service to people attending the Melbourne and Dandenong registries of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia. CN has a team of six networkers operating in the Dandenong registry and 22 in the Melbourne registry.

Networkers connect with court users predominantly through an active outreach style – ‘working the floor’ – introducing themselves to people who are entering the Court or waiting for their matter to be heard. They also accept referrals from court officials and service organisations (either on the day or prior to the court matter being heard). Networkers are highly visible and well-known to court staff and other services operating at the courts.

Networkers provide information about:
> what to expect in court > court rules and process > what to do if you feel unsafe, and > referral to legal services and community resources.

For more information see www.courtnetwork.com.au

Court service locations

Australian Capital Territory

CANBERRA
Circuits to: Wagga Wagga

New South Wales

PARRAMATTA, NEWCASTLE, SYDNEY
Circuits to: Armidale, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Orange, Tamworth, Wauchope, Wollongong

Northern Territory

DARWIN
Circuits to: Alice Springs

Queensland

BRISBANE, CAIRNS, TOWNSVILLE 
Circuits to: Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Ipswich, Lismore, Mackay, Maroochydore, Rockhampton, Southport, Toowoomba

South Australia

ADELAIDE
Circuits to: Mt Gambier, Broken Hill

Tasmania

HOBART, LAUNCESTON
Circuits to: Burnie

Western Australia

PERTH

Victoria

MELBOURNE
Circuits to: Albury, Ballarat, Bendigo, Dandenong, Geelong, Mildura, Morwell, Shepparton, Warrnambool

Map of Australia showing court locations