Corporate governance

This section reports on aspects of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia’s (FCC) corporate governance arrangements.

The legal framework for the FCC’s corporate governance practices is set out in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999, the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and the Public Service Act 1999.

Under the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999, the Chief Judge is responsible for ensuring the orderly and expeditious discharge of the business of the FCC and management of the administrative affairs of the Court. In the latter role, the Chief Judge is assisted by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Principal Registrar.

On 1 July 2016, the Court ceased to be an entity for the purposes of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and the Public Service Act 1999. The budget and staff of the Court sit within the Federal Court of Australia (FCA), with that Court’s CEO and Principal Registrar being the relevant accountable officer under those acts.

Responsibilities for the Court’s budget and staff have been delegated to the CEO and Principal Registrar of the FCC, pursuant to a memorandum of understanding with the FCA CEO and Principal Registrar. The FCC therefore exists as a statutory body, within a single entity alongside the FCA, the Family Court of Australia (FCoA) and the National Native Title Tribunal, supported by a single Corporate Services team.

On 1 July 2016, responsibility for the management of family law registries nationally and the majority of child dispute services were transferred to the FCC, with the associated budget and staff being allocated to it, within the wider entity.

Federal Court structural reform

On 30 May 2018, the Attorney-General announced the Government’s intention to bring forward legislation for structural changes to the federal courts (excluding the High Court of Australia). The legislation is expected to be introduced into Parliament in the Spring sitting.

Under the legislation, a new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia will be established from 1 January 2019 through the amalgamation of the FCC and the FCoA.

A new Family Law Appeal Division in the FCA will also be established to hear all appeals in family law matters from the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (and some appeals from the Family Court of Western Australia).

The reforms, if passed, will help Australian families resolve their disputes faster by improving the efficiency of the family law system, reducing the backlog of matters before the family law courts, and driving faster, cheaper and more consistent dispute resolution.

Senior executives

Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar, Dr Stewart Fenwick

CEO and Principal Registrar

Dr Stewart Fenwick

The CEO and Principal Registrar maintains autonomy in the core function of assisting the Chief Judge in the administration of the FCC through the exercise of delegated authorities under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and the Public Service Act 1999. The CEO and Principal Registrar has oversight of the support provided to the judges of the FCC across its jurisdictions, as well as delivery of family law client services nationally, and ensures that the business needs of the Court are met by the Corporate Services team. Dr Fenwick was appointed CEO and Principal Registrar on 1 July 2017.

Executive Director, Operations, Steve Agnew

Executive Director, Operations

Steve Agnew

The Executive Director, Operations is responsible for delivering court services and non-corporate services functions. This includes the network of regional offices that provide administrative and operational support.

Image of Deputy Principal Registrar Adele Byrne PSM

Deputy Principal Registrar

Adele Byrne PSM

The Court’s Deputy Principal Registrar supports the judicial functioning of the Court through the provision of high-level legal and procedural advice within the Court.

Image of Principal, Child Dispute Services, Janet Carmichael

Principal, Child Dispute Services

Janet Carmichael

Reporting to the CEO and Principal Registrar of the FCC, the Principal, Child Dispute Services has national responsibility for the professional requirements of child dispute services in the FCoA and the FCC. The Principal provides strategic advice to the Chief Justice, the Chief Judge, and CEO and Principal Registrars in relation to the effective and efficient operation of child dispute services, with particular attention to the achievement of best practice standards in policy, practices and service delivery. The Principal works closely with external child and family dispute resolution bodies, as well as relevant tertiary institutions, which are important to the development and ongoing maintenance of high-quality child dispute services, quality assurance and accreditation processes.

Regional Registry Managers

Regional Registry Managers (RRMs) have responsibility for the operation of the Court’s family law registries. Services provided at the family law registries include filing and processing of applications, file maintenance and records, judicial and court support, child dispute services and legal services. RRMs liaise with and support the judiciary of the courts and ensure that registry services are delivered at a high standard.

Regional Registry Manager ACT/NSW

Simon Kelso

Regional Registry Manager Vic/Tas

Jane Reynolds

Regional Registry Manager Qld/SA/NT/Nth NSW/WA

Jamie Crew

Image of Regional Registry Manager ACT/NSW, Simon Kelso

Simon Kelso

Image of Regional Registry Manager Vic/Tas, Jane Reynolds

Jane Reynolds

Image of Regional Registry Manager QLD/SA/NT/Nth NSW, Jamie Crew

Jamie Crew

Judicial committees

The Court’s corporate governance framework includes a range of committees and cross-entity mechanisms to support the effective management of the Court. This is in accordance with s 93 of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999 which provides for the Court to form advisory committees on the following aspects of the Court’s business:

  • the exercise of powers under the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999
  • the making of the Rules of Court, and
  • management of the administrative affairs of the Court.

Overarching committees

National Practice Area Committee

The National Practice Area Committee provides advice to the Chief Judge in relation to the current and proposed case management structures, judicial conduct and judicial education, and the interaction between the FCC and other courts. Each area of the Court is represented according to a national practice area.

The committee met four times in 2017–18.

The committee comprised:

  • Chief Judge Alstergren (Chair)
  • Judge Mead
  • Judge Hartnett
  • Judge Henderson
  • Judge Vasta
  • Judge Smith
  • Judge Wilson
  • Judge Williams
  • Judge Kendall
  • Judge Altobelli
  • Dr Stewart Fenwick
  • Steve Agnew, and
  • Catherine Bull (Secretariat).

Case Management Judges Committee

The FCC has a structure consisting of a National Coordinator of Case Management and case management judges who represent discrete geographical areas/locations. Through this structure, the Court actively monitors its case management across the nation and considers opportunities for improvement.

The role of case management judges also aids the communication throughout the Court on all aspects of workload, timeliness and court practice. Case management judges are also local points of contact for regional stakeholders. The committee meets quarterly with the Chief Judge and the National Coordinator of Case Management to share information about workload trends and issues in their regions and to enhance the adoption of consistent case management practices at registry, regional and national levels.

Membership of the committee for 2017–18 comprised:

  • Judge Lapthorn
  • Judge Henderson
  • Judge O’Sullivan
  • Judge Cameron
  • Judge C Kelly
  • Judge Terry
  • Judge Dunkley
  • Dr Stewart Fenwick
  • Steve Agnew, and
  • Adele Byrne.

Legal Committee

The Legal Committee considers possible rule amendments and wider legal issues about the jurisdiction of the Court. The committee refers its recommendations to the Chief Judge for the consideration of the Court as a whole. Legislation requires that the Rules of Court be approved by all or a majority of judges. Meeting monthly, the committee considers:

  • legislative developments to consider any workload or jurisprudential impacts
  • recommended rules, practice notices and approved forms, and
  • legal issues impacting on the jurisdiction of the Court.

The committee also liaises with the FCoA and the FCA in relation to rules, forms and fees, where appropriate, and with other committees as required to achieve their respective objectives and provide coordinated advice to the Chief Judge and the CEO and Principal Registrar.

Membership in 2017–18 comprised:

  • Judge Driver (Chair)
  • Judge Hartnett
  • Judge Hughes
  • Judge Neville
  • Judge Smith
  • Judge Harper
  • Judge Williams
  • Judge Kendall
  • Judge Baird
  • Adele Byrne, and
  • Steve Agnew.

Working groups and committees

Finance Committee

The role of the Finance Committee is to consider the Court’s budget position and financial affairs generally, and to make recommendations to the Chief Judge where appropriate on policies and procedures in light of expenditure. The committee also assists the CEO and Principal Registrar in the discharge of his or her obligations arising from the delegation of responsibility for the FCC budget, as part of the broader entity.

The committee meets at least four times in each financial year and comprised:

  • Judge Emmett (Chair)
  • Judge Driver
  • Judge O’Sullivan
  • Judge Howard
  • Judge Cole, and
  • Dr Stewart Fenwick.

The committee acknowledges the assistance provided by Ms Catherine Sullivan, Executive Director, Corporate Services, and Ms Kathryn Hunter, Chief Financial Officer.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice Committee

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice Committee continues to coordinate the implementation of the Court’s Reconciliation Action Plan and the Court’s engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around Australia. This work has been undertaken with the help of Indigenous community members working with judges and staff.

Membership for 2017–18 comprised:

  • Judge Willis (Chair)
  • Judge Coates
  • Judge C Kelly
  • Judge Terry
  • Judge Kemp
  • Judge Myers
  • Judge Small
  • Judge Young
  • Judge Wilson
  • Judge Boyle
  • Dr Stewart Fenwick (Secretariat)
  • Dennis Remedio
  • Trent Shepherd, and
  • Mr Rick Welsh.

A number of events and activities occurred throughout the year to promote the Court’s Reconciliation Action Plan aspirations.

Family Violence Committee

The Family Violence Committee is a joint committee of the FCoA and the FCC. The committee’s principal responsibility is to provide advice to the Chief Justice, the Chief Judge and the CEO and Principal Registrar of both courts on the issue of family violence.

In discharging this responsibility, the committee reviews and updates the courts’ Family Violence Plan and Family Violence Best Practice Principles, as well as undertaking discrete projects.

Membership of the committee at 30 June 2018 comprised:

  • Judge Hughes (Chair)
  • Justice Stevenson
  • Justice Ryan
  • Justice Hannam
  • Judge Brown
  • Judge Spelleken
  • Judge Terry
  • Judge Bender
  • Janet Carmichael
  • Di Lojszczyk, and
  • Melissa Buhagiar (Secretariat).

The committee’s focus during the year was the continued implementation of the Family Violence Plan which forms part of the commitment both courts have made to addressing family violence, including the measures contained in the joint Family Violence Best Practice Principles.

Registrars Working Group

The Registrars Working Group members are appointed by the Chief Judge to advise on registrars’ powers and existing duties and development in case management.

Membership for 2017–18 comprised:

  • Judge Williams (Chair)
  • Judge Coker
  • Judge Brown
  • Judge Henderson
  • Judge Altobelli
  • Judge Spelleken
  • Judge C Kelly
  • Judge Bender
  • Judge Turner
  • Dr Stewart Fenwick
  • Adele Byrne, and
  • Steve Agnew.

Judicial Wellbeing Committee

The Judicial Wellbeing Committee was established to promote and protect the health and wellbeing of judges.

Membership of the committee comprised:

  • Chief Judge Alstergren (ex officio)
  • Judge Driver
  • Judge Altobelli (Chair)
  • Judge Willis
  • Judge Stewart
  • Judge Vasta
  • Judge Heffernan
  • Jane Reynolds, and
  • Jordan Di Carlo.

During 2017–18, new regional wellbeing coordinators were appointed to ensure ongoing and regular focus on this issue in all areas of the Court (the list of coordinators is at Appendix 4).

Judicial Education Committee

The Judicial Education Committee provides advice and recommendations to the Chief Judge on judicial education and professional development, and on coordinating and promoting professional development activities.

This committee met three times during 2017–18.

Membership comprised:

  • Judge Harland (Chair)
  • Judge Altobelli
  • Judge Cole
  • Judge Vasta
  • Judge Manousaridis
  • Judge Stewart, and
  • Judge Kendall.

Digital Court Program Steering Group

The Digital Court Program Steering Group has oversight of the introduction of the Digital Court File and document management system and associated case management. This project is being run by the FCA and involves representatives from the three courts.

Membership of this steering group includes:

  • Warwick Soden (FCA)
  • Catherine Sullivan (FCA)
  • Craig Reilly (FCA)
  • Louise Anderson (FCA)
  • Jamie Crew (FCC)
  • Justice Murphy (FCoA)
  • Justice McClelland (FCoA)
  • Judge Smith (FCC)
  • Judge Jarrett (FCC)
  • Justice Perram (FCA)
  • Justice Sutherland (Family Court of Western Australia)
  • Suzanne Taylor (Family Court of Western Australia), and
  • Steve Agnew (FCC).

Cultural and Linguistic Diversity Committee

The Cultural and Linguistic Diversity Committee is tasked with identifying barriers to access to justice in the FCC for people from non-English speaking backgrounds, identifying the relevant issues and developing and implementing strategies to overcome such barriers.

The focus of the committee during the financial year was to identify issues that could be the subject of action in the short and medium term.

Children’s Committee

The Children’s Committee, a joint initiative between the FCC and FCoA, meets regularly to explore the work to be undertaken with respect to the involvement of children in parenting proceedings and improving the experiences of children in the family law system.

The committee has established and is building links with the Australian Children’s Contact Services Association.

Membership for 2017–18 comprised:

  • Judge Cole (FCC)
  • Justice Moncrieff (Family Court of Western Australia)
  • Justice Forrest (FCoA)
  • Janet Carmichael (Principal, Child Dispute Services, FCC)
  • Kylie Beckhouse (Legal Aid New South Wales)
  • Alexandra Wearne (Independent Children’s Lawyer, New South Wales)
  • Kate Bint (Independent Children’s Lawyer, Queensland), and
  • Gayathri Paramasivam (Victoria Legal Aid).

Collaborative committees

Joint Costs Advisory Committee

The committee comprises representatives of the four federal courts: the High Court of Australia, the FCA, the FCoA and the FCC.

Membership at 30 June 2018 was:

  • Justice Benjamin AM, FCoA (Chair)
  • Philippa Lynch, CEO and Principal Registrar, High Court of Australia
  • John Mathieson, Deputy Principal Registrar, FCA
  • Adele Byrne, Deputy Principal Registrar, FCC, and
  • Virginia Wilson, Deputy Principal Registrar, FCoA.

Scales of costs

The current cost scales for each of the federal courts are provided for in the following legislation:

  • High Court Rules 2004 Schedule 2
  • Federal Court Rules 2011 Schedule 3
  • Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 3, and
  • Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 Schedule 1.

Senior management committees

FCC National Executive

The FCC National Executive provides administrative leadership and governance to the Court and family law registries by: supporting and providing advice to the judiciary and the CEO and Principal Registrar; setting clear direction in court and user services; providing a whole-of-organisation strategic perspective; driving the delivery of priority initiatives in the family law system; and maintaining a focus on access to justice, particularly in service delivery. The FCoA’s CEO and Principal Registrar participates in national executive meetings to ensure effective communication and collaboration with that court, and members of the executive provide operational assistance as needed to the FCoA.

The FCC National Executive comprises:

  • Dr Stewart Fenwick, CEO and Principal Registrar
  • Steve Agnew, Executive Director, Operations
  • Adele Byrne, Deputy Principal Registrar
  • Janet Carmichael, Principal, Child Dispute Services
  • Jane Reynolds, Regional Registry Manager
  • Jamie Crew, Regional Registry Manager
  • Simon Kelso, Regional Registry Manager, and
  • Sally Mashman, Manager, National Enquiry Centre.

Internal and external scrutiny

External scrutiny

Commonwealth Ombudsman

The Commonwealth Ombudsman received 15 approaches about the FCC for the period 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018. Of these approaches, all were closed. One pending investigation from the previous year was also closed.

Senate estimates committee hearings

Senior Executive Service staff of the Court attend Senate estimates committee hearings to answer questions about the Court’s activities. In 2017–18, two questions on notice were received and answered by the FCC.

External evaluations

There were no external evaluations.

Internal evaluations

There were no internal evaluations.

Rewards and recognition

Queen’s Birthday Honours List

Photo of Judge Cole who was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) along with his wife Susan Cole (not pictured)

Judge Peter Cole OAM

Judge Peter Cole and his wife, Susan Cole, were both awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the General Division in recognition of their tireless work in the establishment and coordination of two not-for-profit family law conferences, held in Indonesia and Darwin, for the legal profession. As well as the first-class legal education that is provided to the judiciary and profession, the conduct of these conferences has enabled the contribution to four charities that assist disadvantaged children and their families.

Photo of Judge Willis who was honoured as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM)

Judge Josephine Willis AM

Judge Willis was honoured as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the General Division, for significant service to the judiciary, and to the law, to Indigenous access to justice initiatives, and to cultural diversity.

Australia Day Awards

The Australia Day Achievement Medallions recognise the significant contribution and outstanding service of public sector staff.

This year’s FCC recipients were Heather Tebbutt and Keith Schull.

Photo of Australia Day medal recipient Heather Tebbutt

Heather has been with the Court for almost 13 years and is currently a child care/client service officer in Adelaide. Heather is well known and appreciated among her colleagues for her particularly sunny disposition and helpful nature as a client service officer. She is especially outstanding in relation to undertaking the significant responsibility of managing child care in the Adelaide registry, taking very special care of the children who come into her care, a number of whom are vulnerable and apprehensive. Heather has exceptional insight into children, and a clear understanding of her role, and in difficult circumstances, such as handovers, she is an invaluable support to family consultants as well as the children.

Image of Australia Day medal recipient Keith Schull

Keith has been with the Court for almost 17 years and is currently a senior client service officer in Brisbane. Keith is a genuine, no-nonsense person with a can-do attitude. His pragmatic approach to getting the job done, whatever it might be, has been experienced by the judiciary and staff of both courts for many years. Sometimes it is the little things he does that go unnoticed by many but make the workplace enjoyable.

Correction of errors in the 2016–17 annual report

The Court has no matters to report.