Family Law Courts National Communications

The information in this report is intended to capture the main achievements of the administration of the Court over the 2009–10 financial year. It does not include all work and minor projects.

Message from the Acting Chief Executive Officer

This report outlines the major achievements of the administration of the Court over the 2009–10 financial year.

Some of the highlights include:

  • the finalisation of the integration of the administrations of the two courts
  • the restructure of client services
  • the new Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia Enterprise Agreement 2010
  • enhancements and growth in electronic filing
  • the launch of the Dandenong project
  • the development of a protocol for the division of work between the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court
  • completion of the courtroom technology project
  • improvements in the delivery of transcription services
  • ongoing work in support of our Indigenous clients, and
  • ongoing work and initiatives from the Young Employees Advisory Group.

Our work remains focussed on improving access to the Court and to this end, the Court continues to review the circuit program to ensure that judicial resources are appropriately targeted to demand and that work is undertaken in the context of greatest demand.

Other areas highlighting our achievements in improving access to justice include:

  • The Federal Magistrates Court (Victoria) – Geelong Family Relationship Centre Collaboration Pilot Project
  • the Dandenong Project
  • our work with self-represented litigants, and
  • the provision of information products, brochures and fact sheets through the Court’s website and the Family Law Courts website.

The Court improved its budget performance incurring a $2.201 million operating loss compared with a $5.005 million operating loss in 2008–09. The Court has achieved efficiencies in employee expenditure through the combined administration initiative and through targeted reductions in contractors and travel costs. Although we will continue to face ongoing financial pressure we are constantly seeking new and innovative ways to manage our financial resources in an efficient and effective manner.

Thank you to all federal magistrates and staff for your work and commitment to the Court.

[Signed in the hard copy]

Richard Foster PSM
Acting Chief Executive Officer
Federal Magistrates Court of Australia

Federal magistrates

At 30 June 2010, there were 21 female and 40 male federal magistrates.

Location

Federal magistrates

Australian Capital Territory

2

New South Wales

1 Chief Federal Magistrate

 

22 federal magistrates

Northern Territory

1

Queensland

12

South Australia

6

Tasmania

2

Victoria

14

Western Australia

1

Total

61

Appointments and retirements during 2009–10

Federal Magistrate Dominica Whelan—appointed on 24 May 2010. Federal Magistrate Joseph Harman—appointed on 7 June 2010.

Federal Magistrate Leanne Turner—appointed on 7 June 2010.

Federal Magistrate Judith Housego—resigned on 31 July 2009.

Federal Magistrate Jillian Orchiston—resigned on 9 October 2009.

Federal Magistrate Keith Wilson—resigned on 28 February 2010.

Federal Magistrate Burnett—appointed as Deputy Judge Advocate General.

2009 Plenary

The Court’s plenary was held in Sydney from 27–30 September 2009. The plenary provided an opportunity for federal magistrates to discuss further developments in the Court’s future, exchange ideas and participate in workshops. It was a wide ranging and varied programme with an excellent range of educational speakers. Speakers included

  • the Honourable Sir Laurence Street
  • Mr Sandy Street, SC
  • Mr David Monaghan
  • Dr Matthew Gray
  • Professor Richard Chisholm, AM
  • the Honourable Diana Bryant
  • the Honourable Catherine Branson, QC
  • Commander Justine Saunders
  • Dave Watson
  • the Honourable Justice Mary Finn
  • David Bergman
  • Angela Ketas
  • the Honourable Justice Rares, and
  • the Honourable Justice Bennett.

The Court’s workload

Family law and general federal law applications filed, 2009–10

Family law

Total

% of total

Final orders

16 818

18.3

Interim orders

18 450

20.1

Divorce

47 174

51.6

Other

2328

2.5

Total family law

84 770

92.5

General federal law

Total

% of total

Bankruptcy

5402

5.9

Family law

The Federal Magistrates Court’s family law workload continued to grow in 2009–10. Overall, there was a 4.55 per cent increase in the number of applications filed.

Family law filings finalisations

Family law

Filings

Finalisations

 

2009–10

2008–09

% change

2009–10

2008–09

% change

Final orders

16 818

15 571

8

15 407

15 310

1

Interim orders

18 450

16 340

13

18 258

16 286

12

Divorce applications

47 174

45 212

4

46 437

44 776

4

Other

2328

2312

1

2373

2516

(6)

Total family law

84 770

79 435

7

82 475

78 888

6

The Court continued to receive the bulk of family law applications filed in the two federal family law courts. Overall, the Court received 82 per cent of filings nationally in family law.

During 2009–10:

  • 59 per cent of family law applications related specifically to matters concerning children
  • 9 per cent involved both children and property matters
  • 31 per cent involved discrete property applications, and
  • the remaining workload involved applications for contravention, contempt and enforcement summonses.

Divorce

The Court’s divorce workload increased slightly in 2009–10.

 

2009–10

2008–09

% change

Applications for divorce filed

47 174

45 212

4

Applications for divorce finalised

46 437

44 776

4

By arrangements with the Family Court, almost all divorce applications are filed in the Federal Magistrates Court. The divorce work is undertaken by a mix of sessional and in-house registrars who hear the uncontested applications.

During 2009–10, a working group reviewing divorce processes was formed as one of a series of reviews established by the Policy Advisory Committee aimed at reducing operating costs.

On 26 September 2009, the courts introduced eFiling (electronic filing) of divorce applications through the Commonwealth Courts Portal. Since its introduction, there has been a steady increase in the number of eFiled divorce applications. While eFiling does present some operational impact at the registry level, there are also direct savings, clear benefits to litigants and opportunities for improved practices.

From 3 February 2010, a new divorce order replaced the certificate of divorce. Previously, a divorce certificate was issued when a divorce order took effect; however, the new divorce order includes the certification that the divorce has taken effect and records relevant matters that the judicial officer takes into account when making a divorce order. The new form was introduced to address difficulties being experienced by some overseas jurisdictions which required a record of the matters that the judicial officer took into consideration. All divorce orders are now generated electronically and include an electronic seal and signature and registered users can download a copy of the order once it has taken effect. The quality of the electronically generated orders will continue to be enhanced during 2010–11.

The number of contested divorces is small and very few go on to a federal magistrate for a contested hearing. There are even fewer divorce matters which go on appeal to the Family Court. However, the Full Court in Price & Underwood (divorce appeal) [2009] FamCAFC 127 dismissed an appeal from all orders surrounding the granting of a divorce (the husband died one day after the divorce order was made). The appeal court upheld the discretionary decision of the trial judge to shorten the period in which the divorce order took effect and the order appointing a case guardian to bring the application for divorce.

General federal law

In general federal law the Court continues to deal with most migration and bankruptcy applications and there is an increasing industrial law workload. The jurisdictional limitations on the Court in trade practice and intellectual property could reduce the number of filings in these areas.

Filings in general federal law represent 7.5 per cent of all filings in the Court.

General federal law filings finalisations

General federal law

Filings

Finalisations

 

2009–10

2008–09

% change

2009–10

2008–09

% change

Bankruptcy

5402

4718

15

5056

4648

9

Migration

880

1288

(32)

1022

1491

(31)

Administrative law

30

19

58

31

28

11

Admiralty law

14

22

(36)

18

14

29

Trade practices

87

110

(21)

83

98

(15)

Copyright

42

45

(7)

39

46

(15)

Human rights

105

85

24

86

93

(8)

Industrial

348

255

36

290

240

21

Total general federal law

6908

6543

6

6625

6658

(1)

Significant developments

Family law services review

On 24 May 2010 the Attorney-General, the Honourable Robert McClelland MP, announced the government’s decision about the restructure of the federal courts. This followed:

  • March 2008: the Attorney-General initiated the Semple Review of the administration and delivery of family law services by the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court.
  • November 2008: the Attorney-General released a discussion paper, Future Governance Options for Federal Family Law Courts in Australia—Striking the Right Balance.
  • May 2009: the Australian Government released its decision on the future of the courts. The Attorney-General announced that the government proposed to merge the Federal Magistrates Court with the Family Court and the Federal Court.

At the end of the 2008–09 financial year, the government had been preparing legislation to facilitate the merger and had been working towards having legislation in place in the first part of 2010. However, the restructure was delayed due to the government considering the implications of the High Court’s decision in Lane v Morrison.

In terms of family law, on 24 May 2010 the Attorney-General announced that:

  • The Federal Magistrates Court would be retained to hear general federal law matters, with the Federal Court assuming responsibility for the administration of the Federal Magistrates Court.
  • The Family Court would be the single court dealing with all family law matters and would be restructured into two divisions. Federal magistrates exercising mostly family law jurisdiction would be offered commissions in the Family Court.

At the time of publication of this Report, Parliament had been prorogued and the Bill as introduced has lapsed.

Integration of Courts’ administration

As reported last year, in March 2009, in advance of the Government’s decision about the future of the courts, a plan to further integrate the administration of the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court was made by the Family Law Courts Advisory Group. This was done to maximise the efficiency and resources of the courts and to help address the challenging financial position facing both courts.

The integration of the administrations proceeded. The integrated administration continued to recognise that the two jurisdictions remained as independent courts.

In addition to the restructuring of registrar and family consultant resources, a number of changes were made to regional and registry management structures and to client services within registries.

Single regional and registry management structure

The courts now have a single regional management structure, managed through four regions by four regional registry managers under the leadership of the Executive Director Client Services:

  • Marianne Christmann, New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory
  • James Cotta, Queensland/Northern New South Wales
  • Jane Reynolds, Victoria/Tasmania, and
  • Greg Thomas, South Australia/Northern Territory.

A new position of Business Development Manager was created during the year, with responsibility for eFiling and Commonwealth Courts Portal development, the National Enquiry Centre and the business systems development officers.

A two-day planning workshop for senior managers of both courts was held in March 2010. The focus of discussions was critical issues affecting both courts, such as strategies for the combined administration, budget strategies (including savings options), governance, roles and expectations, and key elements of the change process necessary to ensure an effective way forward.

Client service management restructure

After consulting with staff over several months, the implementation of new registry-level management structures was completed in all registries in January 2010.

The new structure includes two arms—judicial services and registry services. Both arms provide localised and integrated management arrangements to lead and support the staff of both courts.

Enterprise agreement

On 18 June 2010, Fair Work Australia approved the new Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia Enterprise Agreement 2010. The agreement was negotiated between the courts, the Community and Public Sector Union and individual staff bargaining representatives. It commenced on 25 June 2010, replacing the individual collective agreements of both courts.

The nominal expiry date of the new agreement is 30 June 2011. However, under present arrangements the Agreement will continue to operate after that date until replaced or formally terminated. It applies to all employees of the courts employed under the Public Service Act 1999, other than SES employees.

The achievement of the agreement was a significant event. It means that within the two courts, staff working side-by-side doing similar work are employed under the same terms and conditions of employment. It positions the courts for future developments in the conduct of workplace relations within the government sector.

The agreement supports significant improvements in the courts’ operations to be achieved through the range of corporate efficiency/productivity measures produced following reviews of child dispute services, judicial support, library and guarding services, user pays options, divorce processes and procedures, including conciliation conferences, use of interpreters, technology (video links and teleconferencing), circuits and provision of transcripts.

The agreement provides that in order to receive the salary increases, or to progress from one pay point to the next in the pay scale of a classification, an employee must participate in the courts’ performance management and development system (PMDS) and be assessed as ‘meeting requirements’ or higher at or before the date of the pay increase.

Concurrent with the agreement, management strategies are being developed aimed at ensuring that staff turnover rates and staff absences are within APS best practice parameters and are not inconsistent with averages identified in the state of the service report.

Protocol for the division of work between the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court

In January 2010, the Chief Federal Magistrate and the Chief Justice of the Family Court published a protocol for the division of work between the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court. It provides guidance for legal practitioners and litigants enabling matters to be directed properly to the court appropriate to hear them.

The protocol may, on occasion, give way to the imperatives of where a case can best be heard and is not intended to constrain the discretion of a judicial officer having regard to the applicable legislation and the facts and circumstances of the case.

If any one of the following criteria applies, then the application for final orders ordinarily should be filed and/or heard in the Family Court, if judicial resources permit (otherwise the matter should be filed and/or heard in the Federal Magistrate Court):

  • international child abduction
  • international relocation
  • disputes as to whether a case should be heard in Australia
  • special medical procedures (such as gender reassignment and sterilisation)
  • contravention and related applications in parenting cases relating to orders which have been made in Family Court proceedings; which have reached a final stage of hearing or a judicial determination and which have been made within 12 months prior to filing
  • serious allegations of sexual abuse of a child warranting transfer to the Magellan list or similar list where applicable, and serious allegations of physical abuse of a child or serious controlling family violence warranting the attention of a superior court
  • complex questions of jurisdiction or law, and
  • if the matter proceeds to a final hearing, it is likely it would take in excess of four days of hearing time.

The Family Court has exclusive jurisdiction in relation to adoption and the validity of marriages and divorces.

Either court on its own motion or on application of a party can transfer a matter to the other court. There is no right of appeal from a decision as to transfer.

New subpoena process

The Federal Magistrates Court Amendment Rules 2009 (No 3) came into effect on 30 November 2009. The amendments introduced new rules in relation to subpoenas with provision for the release of documents produced for inspection and copying without the need for a listing before a judicial officer , where there is no objection. The amendments are aimed at reducing the number of court appearances and the costs associated with the production of subpoenaed documents when there is no dispute.

Review of family violence strategy

During 2009–10, the Chief Federal Magistrate and Chief Justice of the Family Court convened a joint Family Violence Committee to take into consideration the relevant findings, observations and recommendations of recent reports on family violence. One of the committee’s tasks is to review the Family Court’s Family Violence Strategy 2004–2005 and Best Practice Principles for use in Parenting disputes when family violence or child abuse is alleged (March 2009) to reflect the needs of clients in both federal family law courts. The documents represent a major commitment by the courts in addressing family violence when it is an issue for court clients.

De facto relationship laws

Since 1 March 2009, de facto couples have been able to access courts exercising federal family law jurisdiction (such as the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court) in property and maintenance cases. Since then, ongoing staff training and education has occurred.

General federal law eLodgment

On 24 May 2010 the Federal Court released a new online electronic filing facility, eLodgment. This enables any member of the public to electronically lodge general federal law documents with the Federal Magistrates Court and the Federal Court.

eLodgment may be used to commence an action in either jurisdiction by enabling the lodgment of initiating documents and any supporting documents. Similarly, documents about existing matters may be lodged via eLodgment if the file number is known. As the document(s) remain accessible via eLodgment, users can monitor the progress of their eLodgment(s) as well as review the processed document(s) through their Lodgment History. They can access the sealed electronic versions of the documents should they require them to email or print out for service.

Complaints

During 2009-10, the Court received 116 complaints, which is comparable with complaints received during the previous year. Complaints are categorised as follows:

  • registry (5)
  • judicial decision (7)
  • conduct of chambers (2)
  • dispute resolution (30)
  • conduct of federal magistrates (22) n conduct of legal representative (4) n enforcement of court orders (1)
  • legal process (6)
  • delays (3)
  • financial mediation (3)
  • divorce (1), and
  • overdue judgments (32).

Where possible, parties are advised to put their complaints in writing and are able to email their complaint via the Court’s customer service email address.

Copies of the Court’s complaints policy and judicial complaints policy are available from the Court’s website (www.fmc.gov.au). Parties are also able to forward a complaint about a delay in the delivery of a judgment through the relevant state or territory law society or bar association.

10 year anniversary

The Court celebrated its tenth anniversary on 23 June 2010.

In the late 1990s the concept of establishing a lower level federal court was developed by the then government and its Attorney-General, Daryl Williams. The Federal Magistrates Court was in fact, Australia’s first lower level federal court since the passage of the Judiciary Act in 1903.

Amid controversy and a legal fraternity hardly embracing the idea of a new court, the Federal Magistrates Court was born. In the early days, the identity of the Court was a little confused as it was given two titles; the Federal Magistrates Court and the Federal Magistrates Service. After a few years, the use of the term ‘service’ was dropped.

While the Court’s identity may have been a little confused, the purpose and objective of the Court was not. From day one, the Federal Magistrates Court was given the mandate to provide a simple and accessible service for litigants and to ease the workload of both the Family Court and the Federal Court. That objective has been held fast throughout the Court’s life and has well and truly been met.

Adversity and controversy (and the odd review or two) has never been too far away, but some may say that it has been from that adversity that a defiant, hardworking and strong organisation has grown… and grown…and grown.

From the original 16 federal magistrates that served the Court in its first year, the Court now has 61 federal magistrates, including the Chief Federal Magistrate. The Court is now the largest federal trial court in Australia.

The positive and passionate culture of the Court that was established in its early years is very real and continues today in the work done by the judiciary and staff. In describing the Court’s culture, Chief Federal Magistrate Pascoe said, ‘it is quite a unique culture that has been developed over the past ten years and each of you should feel very proud of creating such a positive and hardworking ethos.

‘It is a very good time to reflect on what has been achieved and about your contribution and service not only to the Court, but to the Australian community. I would specifically like to highlight the critical role that associates and all other staff members have played in supporting the judiciary and the Court in general. Some associates and staff have been with the Court for many years which reflects their dedication and loyalty.

‘Often working under immense pressure and with minimal resources, associates and staff have always risen to the challenge and provided terrific support to the Court and for that, they should be congratulated.’

Commemorative DVD

DVD celebrating the 10 year history of Court is being produced. It includes interviews with Chief Federal Magistrate John Pascoe; the Court’s first Chief Federal Magistrate, Chief Justice Diana Bryant (now of the Family Court); and others who have made a significant contribution to the Court’s history. The DVD will be provided to federal magistrates at the concurrent conference to be held in October 2010. Additional copies will also be provided to all registries.

10 year interesting facts and figures

  • In the Court’s first full year of operation (2000–01) it received 36 435 applications. This figure has now almost tripled with the Court receiving 91 678 applications during 2009–10.
  • The balance of family law work has evolved significantly since the inception of the Federal Magistrates Court. Over 80 per cent of all family law applications (except those filed in WA) are filed in the Federal Magistrates Court.
  • The Court deals with the majority of bankruptcy applications and approximately 95 per cent of all migration applications filed in the federal courts.
  • In its family law jurisdiction in 2009–10, the Court finalised approximately 85 per cent of matters within 6 months and 95 per cent of all matters were finalised within 12 months.
  • In the Court’s general federal law jurisdiction in 2009–10, the Court finalised approximately 88 per cent of matters within 6 months and 96 per cent within 12 months.
  • The Court conducted regular regional circuits to 33 locations during 2009–10. In 2000–01 the Court sat in 21 circuit locations on a regular basis. Several of these 21 locations have since become permanent locations for sitting federal magistrates.

Changes to the Court’s jurisdiction during 2009–10

On 24 June 2010, the Military Court of Australia Bill 2010 was introduced into Parliament and, if passed, will establish a new Military Court of Australia. This court will replace the interim system of military justice put in place following the High Court’s decision in Lane v Morrison [2009] HCA 29. Judges of the Federal Court and the Federal Magistrates Court may be offered dual commissions, however judicial officers must have Australian Defence Force experience or knowledge. It is proposed that the Military Court will consist of two divisions; the General Division and the Appellate and Superior Division. The original jurisdiction will be exercised by a single federal magistrate in the General Division with serious service offences heard by a single judge in the Appellate and Superior Division.

The government announced that the proposed Military Court of Australia would form part of a restructured federal court system to be implemented through the Access to Justice (Family Court Restructure and Other Measures) Bill 2010. This bill was introduced into Parliament at the same time as the legislation to establish the Military Court. This Bill aims to establish the Family Court as the single court dealing with all family law matters. It is proposed to remove the family law jurisdiction of the Federal Magistrates Court by creating a new division of the Family Court to which federal magistrates exercising family law jurisdiction will be offered new commissions. The Federal Magistrates Court would continue to hear general federal law matters.

At the time of publication of this Report, Parliament had been prorogued and the Bills as introduced have lapsed.

National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009, National Consumer Credit Protection (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Act 2009 and the National Consumer Credit Protection (Fees) Act 2009 (‘Credit Acts’)

These acts implement the first phase of the new Consumer Credit scheme following a decision to transfer consumer credit regulation to the Commonwealth.

The Credit Acts establish the key components of the national credit regime and include:

  • a comprehensive licensing regime for those engaged in credit activities by way of the Australian Credit Licence. This is administered by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)
  • industry-wide responsible lending conduct requirements for licensees
  • improved sanctions and enhanced enforcement powers for the regulator, and
  • enhanced consumer protection through dispute resolution mechanisms, court processes and remedies.

From 1 July 2010 the Federal Magistrates Court, the Federal Court and State and Territory courts are able to exercise federal jurisdiction in relation to claims brought under the legislation.

The Personal Property Securities Act 2009 and the Personal Property Securities (Consequential Amendments) Act 2009 received Royal Assent on 14 December 2009. The aim of the legislation is to facilitate the establishment of a single national regime for secured lending over personal property. The Act confers jurisdiction on a number of courts, including the Federal Magistrates Court, where there is a jurisdictional limit of an award of damages that does not exceed $750 000. Full implementation of the national regime is dependent upon the passage of referral legislation by the states.

Amendments to the Federal Magistrates Court Rules 2001

Federal Magistrates Court Amendment Rules 2009 (No 3) 

The amendments came into effect on 30 November 2009 and introduced new rules about subpoenas and the release of documents produced for inspection and copying without the need for a listing before a judicial officer, where there is no objection. The amendments aim to reduce the number of court appearances for production of subpoenaed documents when there is no dispute.

Amendments to the Federal Magistrates Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2006

Federal Magistrates Court (Bankruptcy) Amendment Rules 2009 (No 1) 

The amendments came into effect on 30 November 2009 and include miscellaneous amendments to the Federal Magistrates Court Bankruptcy Rules 2006 in order to make a minor amendment to the note on Form 7 and the reference to Rule 2.03 on Form 7.

Amendments to the Federal Magistrates Regulations 2000

Federal Magistrates Court Amendment Regulations 2009 (No 2) 

The purpose of the amendment was to remove redundant references to the Workplace Relations Act 1996. In addition, the regulations clarified that the Fair Work Act 2009 court applications prescribed in the Regulations, which attract a reduced fee, are not subject to any other court fees, such as a setting-down and biennial increase. The fee for the Fair Work Act court applications prescribed by the Regulations is set by the Fair Work Regulations 2009. This fee is adjusted annually according to an indexation factor based on the consumer price index. The amendments commenced retrospectively from 1 July 2009.

Federal Magistrates Amendment Regulations 2010 (No 1) 

The Federal Magistrates Regulations 2000 provide for automatic biennial increases in fees. (Such increases took effect on 1 July 2010 at the same time as new amounts arising out of saving proposals announced by the government in the Budget took effect.) These measures included specific increases in application fees for divorce, family law matters and bankruptcy. The Regulations also introduced a new hearing fee in addition to the setting down fee when matters run for more than one day.

The Fair Work Act 2009 conferred small claims jurisdiction on the Court from 1 January 2010 for various industrial matters up to a value of $20 000. Included in these amendments was an amendment to the fee schedule in the Federal Magistrates Regulations 2000 to implement reduced fees for applications being brought through small claims proceedings, effective from 1 July 2010.

Access to justice

Circuit program

The Court aims to provide access to justice for every Australian regardless of geographic location and to do so in a timely and efficient manner. To this end, the Court has regular circuit visits to rural and regional locations across Australia. This enables parties to have their matters heard locally, thereby avoiding the need to travel to major centres.

During 2009–10 the Court sat in 33 rural and regional locations and continued to review the circuit program to ensure that judicial resources were appropriately targeted to demand.

Publication of judgments

While the Federal Magistrates Court produces judgments over a broad range of jurisdictions, in previous years general federal law decisions were definitely the majority of the workload, particularly migration. The past financial year however, has resulted in family law judgments outnumbering any other jurisdiction.

It is the policy of the Federal Magistrates Court that all family law judgments be anonymised in accordance with section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975 if being uploaded to the AustLII website.

  • Of the 1209 family law judgments handed down by federal magistrates, 435 of these were anonymised which included 28 Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT) appeal decisions relating to child support. All SSAT appeal decisions are published to the AustLII website.
  • 1023 general federal law decisions were handed down by federal magistrates during the 2009–10 financial year
  • There has been a further reduction in general federal law appeals from 588 in 2008–09 to 423 in 2009–10.
  • 159 judgments were published in law reports during this financial year.

Dandenong project

The Dandenong registry is trialling a new approach to managing family law proceedings this year. The registry commenced the Dandenong project on 1 January 2010 with the vision to ‘deliver justice in a way that better meets the needs of litigants in the Dandenong region’. If successful, the initiatives will be rolled out through registries Australia wide.

‘The project aims to ensure that every court event adds value, is constructive and advances the matter towards resolution’, said project sponsor Federal Magistrate Baumann.

An information and education session was held on 27 January at the Dandenong registry to provide local practitioners and other interested parties with information about the project. The first information session attracted around 100 guests who provided constructive and positive feedback about the pilot program. The project has also generated a lot of interest amongst Dandenong’s legal profession, with the attendance at the information session surpassing all our expectations.

  • Dandenong has previously been a circuit location with federal magistrates sitting on a rotational basis. Throughout 2010 three federal magistrates will be resident in Dandenong to enhance practice consistency and enable all matters to be individually case managed through a docket system.
  • A triage process will be introduced to direct litigants to the most appropriate pathway for their personal circumstances.
  • Procedural orders will be produced in court and will be available to litigants on the same day as their court event.
  • New compliance arrangements will be introduced to ensure matters are ready to proceed on the day they are listed.
  • A greater and more flexible range of dispute resolution options will be available. Two family consultants will be available on duty days to assist federal magistrates.
  • The Dandenong case-load is characterised by a high proportion of self-represented litigants. Providers of community legal assistance will be available in the registry to assist litigants on duty days.
  • Representatives from family support organisations and local providers of community-based dispute resolution will be present in the registry to link parties to appropriate community services.

The Dandenong project was officially launched by the Attorney-General, the Honourable Robert McClelland MP on 6 July 2010.

Indigenous working group established

In May 2009, the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court established an Indigenous working group. The group collect research data and information to help identify how the courts can enhance relationships and respect for Indigenous Australians. The Indigenous working group consider issues such as:

  • the impact of the shift of the provision of Indigenous services to Family Relationship Centres (previously provided by the Indigenous Family Liaison Officers)
  • how to manage applications for parenting orders relating to traditional adoption practices by Torres Strait Islanders (Kupai Omasker)
  • how to better meet the needs of Indigenous clients by ensuring information is provided to all staff and Indigenous clients, and
  • the development of a Reconciliation Action Plan.

The Reconciliation Action Plan will identify how the courts will enhance relationships with Indigenous Australians. It will include areas such as building relationships with the Indigenous community, staff education, attracting and retaining Indigenous staff and ensuring that judges and family consultants have access to appropriate expertise to deal with Indigenous families. The members of the Indigenous working group are Justice Benjamin and Federal Magistrate Donald.

Community relations

In 2008 the Court initiated the Federal Magistrates Court (Victoria) – Geelong Family Relationship Centre (FRC) Collaboration Pilot Project. The pilot project placed key staff from the Geelong FRC at the Court during the family law circuits in November 2008 and March, May and August 2009.The FRC duty workers were responsible for providing an information table and being available to legal representatives and clients to answer queries.

The primary objectives of the pilot project were twofold:

  • to explore ways in which the FRC could provide direct support to the Federal Magistrates Court, through more effective processes to move families closer to resolution of their matters, and
  • to enhance cross-sector collaboration and service delivery integration, with the FRC operating as a ‘gateway’ to other community service providers and an information point for self-represented litigants, court clients and local legal practitioners.

The evaluation report, finalised in November 2009, highlights the potential for FRCs to play a valuable role in case management, by consulting with legal practitioners and remaining engaged with both the Court and clients throughout the dispute resolution and court process.

The Dandenong project has established similar relationships with Victorian Family Pathways and local FRCs.

International cooperation

Japanese delegation

At the Lawasia conference in Singapore in May 2009 a group of Japanese lawyers met with Federal Magistrate Howard and Perth lawyer, Mr Andrew Davies. The Japanese lawyers sought assistance in relation to a proposed study tour to Australia. The lawyers were all members of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. They were particularly interested in observing the role of an Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL). On 26 October 2009, nine members of the Japanese delegation attended a session conducted by Legal Aid in Sydney. The lawyers received instruction in relation to the role of an ICL. This session was organised with the kind assistance of Ms Maureen Schull from the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia. On 27 October 2009, the delegates visited the Family Law Courts, Sydney registry to observe a parenting case being heard before Federal Magistrate Howard. With the assistance of Chief Federal Magistrate John Pascoe and Justice Fowler of the Family Court, the courts hosted a morning tea for the delegates which was attended by federal magistrates and Family Court judges. The delegates intend lobbying in Japan for the implementation of an ICL system similar to that which operates in Australia.

International Association of Refugee Law Judges Conference

The Australasian Chapter of the International Association of Refugee Law Judges (IARLJ) conducted its regional conference in Sydney on 12 February 2010. The conference brought together Association members from Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and South Korea and provided an invaluable opportunity to continue to drive the chapter’s Asian outreach programme.

The conference agenda was both stimulating and challenging, with sessions on assessments of bad faith, complementary protection and differing approaches to refugee status determination in the Asia Pacific region. Senior judges from Indonesia, India and the United States of America participated and key academics from Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America presented at the conference.

The conference was preceded by a two-day training workshop in refugee law for decision makers from the region. All stayed on for the conference as observers, providing the opportunity for members to develop new relationships with key decision makers.

The Australasian Chair of the IARLJ is Federal Magistrate Rolf Driver who chaired the discussion on bad faith. The conference was also attended by Federal Magistrates Riley and Burchardt.

The Court’s administration

The Court is a federal court of record and a court of law and equity. It sits in all capital cities and selected major regional centres.

Staff of the Court

Court staff are employed under the Public Service Act 1999. At 30 June 2010, the Court had 162 employees covered by the Collective Agreement and Australian Workplace Agreements (excluding judicial officers, the Acting Chief Executive Officer and casual employees). This compared with 198 employees at 30 June 2009, being a decrease of 36 employees.

Most staff are employed in the chambers of federal magistrates. Each federal magistrate is supported by two employees, who undertake the administrative responsibilities associated with the day-to-day management of chambers and court, including duties required in the courtroom.

Senior executives

At 30 June 2010, the Court’s principal executive group comprised:

Richard Foster PSM, Acting Chief Executive Officer

Mr Foster PSM was appointed Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Magistrates Court on 25 November 2008. The Chief Executive Officer has the responsibilities and powers of an agency head for the purposes of the Public Service Act 1999 and the responsibilities of a chief executive of an agency under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997.

Steven Agnew, Acting Deputy Chief Executive Officer

The Deputy Chief Executive Officer is responsible for the delivery of court services and administrative functions.

Grahame Harriott, Acting Chief Finance Officer

The Chief Finance Officer has responsibility for all financial management, reporting, budgeting, cost analysis, taxation and financial processing for the Court.

Adele Byrne PSM, Principal Registrar

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

Federal Magistrates Court organisational structure

Federal Magistrates Court organisational structure

Family consultants and registrars review and restructure

Early in 2009–10, Des Semple and Associates completed a review of family consultants and registrars. The review had the following terms of reference:

  • Review the current management structure and processes of family consultant and registrar services and advise on the appropriate governance and management structure for the future provision of these services to the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court, recognising the separate case management processes and procedures of the two courts.
  • Recommend the future quantum of family consultant and registrar resources for future allocation to the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court on the proportion of the number of cases finalised by both courts.
  • Propose management systems that ensure transparent and dedicated allocation of resources to both courts according to the number of case matters finalised.
  • Propose the management templates and executive information management reports that accurately monitor case management outcomes according to the predetermined resource allocations.

In August 2009, the Chief Federal Magistrate, the Chief Justice of the Family Court and acting Chief Executive Officer approved recommendations on the transfer of resources arising from the Semple review.

Family consultants

In October 2009, a single management structure was introduced and the first allocation of dedicated family consultant and registrar resources was made for the Federal Magistrates Court. The new structure replaced the previous positions of Manager Child Dispute Services with Regional Coordinators in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Deputy Managers Child Dispute Services were replaced by six new Senior Family Consultant positions at these same registries, with three assigned to each court to manage the pool of available resources. An additional six Senior Family Consultants will be located in North Queensland, Newcastle, Parramatta, Adelaide, Canberra and Hobart.

Resources continue to be moved between the courts to meet the needs of the judiciary and clients.

Registrars

In the family law context, the regional management and appeals structure of registrars was maintained. In October 2009 a predetermined level of registrar resources for each location was decided, to be made available through the pool of registrars in each location.

In the general federal law context, registrar resources are made available by the Federal Court and undertake mediation and delegated judicial powers on behalf of the Court.

The use of registrar resources to support both courts was ongoing at 30 June 2010.

Resource allocation

At 30 June 2010, the management information reporting continued its development. It is an essential tool for accurately determining the distribution of the available family consultant and registrar resources.

The transition to the new arrangements for both family consultants and registrars is another key step in ensuring the success of the single administration. The ongoing management of resources will be achieved at a regional level through a transparent management process that will be monitored and regularly reported to the Family Law Courts Advisory Group.

Senate estimate committee hearings

Senior Executive Service staff of the Court attend Senate estimate committee hearings to answer questions about the Court’s activities. In 2009–10, 13 Senate estimate questions on notice were received and answered.

CEO’s Management Advisory Group

Each year, membership of the CEO’s Management Advisory Group (CMAG) is reviewed by the CEO and new members are invited to participate.

Chaired by the CEO of the Family Court and Acting CEO of the Federal Magistrates Court, Richard Foster, the group meets every six to eight weeks and comprises: Acting Deputy CEO; Executive Director Information, Communication and Technology Services; Acting Executive Director Client Services; a regional registry manager representative; the Executive Director Corporate; with support provided by the Executive Advisor to the CEO.

Areas for discussion or decision over the financial year included:

  • savings initiatives
  • review of registry management structures and duplication of administration
  • review of access to justice – ACG policy statement
  • Comcare issues
  • eFiling
  • environmental policy
  • YEAG
  • merger of court administration
  • closer coordination with AGD
  • human resources, property, procurement and risk, and
  • courtroom technology (audio and video).

Minutes from each CMAG meeting are now provided to the Policy Advisory Committee.

Emergency or overflow judgment typing

The Federal Magistrates Court judgments office was set up as an authorised user of Auscript’s online ordering system, Transcript Express. Urgent judgments which have been dictated by federal magistrates as audio files (Olympus etc.) can now be sent to the judgments publication office to be typed and returned on template, within the timeline specified. This service was previously provided by NTS, but has moved to Auscript. It is important to note that this service is to be used only in the case of emergencies, such as when chambers staff are absent, or the amount of judgments to be typed exceeds the ability of associates to produce in a timely manner. Judgments will be returned as Word documents ready for insertion of citation number, catchwords and final details.

Young Employees Advisory Group

The 2009–10 YEAG included nine employees aged 27 years or younger from both the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court. Throughout their year-long involvement, the YEAG had the assistance of a mentor and project coordinator from the courts’ executive. The involvement of senior staff is integral to the development of projects that could be achieved in a short timeframe and benefit the courts into the future. Members of the 2009–10 group included:

  • Chris Vogelsinger, National Enquiry Centre
  • Robyn Birch, Human Resources (National Support Office)
  • Rachel Payne, Family Court Judgment Publications Office (Melbourne)
  • Tijana Petkovic, Family Court Chambers (Newcastle)
  • James Gasteen, Federal Magistrates Court Chambers (Brisbane)
  • April Grenquist, Federal Magistrates Court Chambers (Melbourne) n Amanda Morris, Federal Magistrates Court Chambers (Parramatta) n Rory Barclay, Registry Services (Cairns), and
  • Kristy Freeme, Registry Services (Brisbane).

The courts are not aware of any similar group in other Australian public sector organisations and hope the group’s success will prompt other organisations to consider setting up similar initiatives.

The YEAG achievements during 2009–10 included:

  • Environment—guidelines and initiatives aimed at reducing the courts’ impact on the environment, including the development of an environmental responsibility policy statement that was released to all staff in January 2010.
  • Electronic technologies—developing a business case to explore use of SMS and email technology. Phase one of the project will develop the capacity to message applicants who ‘opt in’ to a service which confirms by SMS that their divorce application has been granted. Other opportunities for using the technology are being considered, such as reminders to clients of an upcoming court event. The aim of the project will be to deliver better client service and reduce court costs. These messages will not replace formal communication.
  • Staff development— promoting development programs available to staff, which includes a brief online survey to obtain staff views on the most effective ways to communicate development opportunities and to raise staff awareness of the development opportunities available. The young employees completed design of the survey. The manager of Human Resources has committed to dissemination of the survey to all staff early in 2010–11 and to report to the staff development committee on the results.

Rewards and recognition

The Court recognises and rewards staff achievements, contributions and innovations.

Australia Day achievement medallions

The Australia Day medallions recognise staff who have made an exceptional contribution to the work of the Court over the past year, or have given outstanding service over a number of years. This year’s winners were announced in January by the (then) Acting Chief Federal Magistrate Michael Baumann.

Maria Darmanin, PDR Services Melbourne

Maria was recognised for her dedication to the provision of Primary Dispute Resolution (PDR) services. Maria commenced with the Federal Magistrates Court in October 2003 and has played a significant role in the development, implementation and maintenance of the systems and processes used to support PDR.

Steven Taylor, Chambers of the Chief Federal Magistrate

Steven was recognised for the excellent support that he has provided the chambers of the Chief Federal Magistrate. Steven started with the Federal Magistrates Court over two years ago and has provided support throughout a very demanding period of time for the Court.

Commander of the Royal Victorian Order

Chief Federal Magistrate Pascoe was recognised in Her Majesty the Queen’s New Years Honours list 2010. The Chief Federal Magistrate was appointed a Commander of The Royal Victorian Order (CVO) which recognises service made to the Sovereign. This prestigious award is generally only awarded to Australian citizens who have filled the role of Governor or Governor General.

IACA President-Elect

Richard Foster was appointed as the President-Elect of the International Association for Court Administration (IACA). As the President-Elect, Richard will be Vice President until the end of 2011 when he becomes the President. The role of the President-Elect is to promote courts administration around the world, raising the profile of courts administration, liaising with 45 other member countries and looking at innovation and best practice.

Human resources

Human resources is responsible for pay and reporting and human resource strategy and recruitment. 

A single new enterprise agreement for the courts

Following the merger of the corporate functions of the Federal Magistrates Court and Family Court, it was agreed that the collective agreements covering staff of the courts should be replaced with a single enterprise agreement that was consistent with the Government’s newly issued policy parameters for bargaining in Australian Government employment.

The Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia Enterprise Agreement 2010 was negotiated between the courts, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and individual staff bargaining representatives. It commenced on 25 June 2010 and from that date superseded the existing individual collective agreements of each court.

The agreement applies to all employees of the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court employed under the Public Service Act 1999, other than SES employees.

This was a significant event. It provided that from the commencement date, people working side-by-side doing similar work would be working under the same terms and conditions of employment. It also positions the courts for future developments in the conduct of workplace relations within the government sector.

The agreement supports significant improvements in the courts’ operations to be produced through a range of corporate efficiency/productivity measures specified in the agreement. In return the agreement provides for two pay increases, each of 1.5 per cent, to apply from 1 July 2010 and 1 January 2011, respectively.

Staff development committee

In 2009–10, the staff development committee (SDC) arranged for various staff training and development tools to be added to the E-learn portal of the Court’s intranet. This included modules on countering bullying and harassment; also for dealing with difficult and persistent clients.

The SDC arranged for a training program on managing difficult interactions with clients conducted by Dr Rosie Purcell. The program was designed for staff who manage in-person and telephone interactions with clients, particularly those who display hostile or aggressive behaviour, or who consume a disproportionate amount of staff time and energy (e.g. via repetitive, non-productive encounters). The full day program consisted of four major components:

  • an overview of the characteristics of difficult clients, including factors which motivate or sustain problematic behaviours (e.g. repeated/persistent/highly emotional enquiries) and different types of clients (‘normal’, ‘difficult’, ‘mentally disordered’ and ‘abnormally persistent’)
  • instruction in recognising the early warning signs for verbal and physical hostility or aggression among clients, and how to prevent an escalation of these behaviours and diffuse tense situations
  • instruction in communication techniques to manage difficult conversations, including repeated or unnecessarily prolonged encounters, hostile or aggressive behaviour and threats (to staff or others), and
  • discussion of managing stress and frustration associated with dealing with difficult clients and methods to enhancing staff safety during difficult interactions.

During 2009–10, the SDC arranged for the Court to purchase five Australian Public Service Commission training kits in relation to APS Values and Code of Conduct training. Human resources is now planning training for all staff across the courts in the next 6–12 months.

The SDC also facilitated staff exchanges between different locations. The SDC is integral to the Court’s approach to the continuing professional and career development of staff, being a key forum through which staff representatives have shared responsibility for identifying and determining development needs and opportunities.

National occupational health and safety committee

The committee is being reorganised to include representation from the Federal Magistrates Court. The new committee will work closely with the National Consultative Committee to promote health and safety awareness throughout the courts.

Flu vaccinations

The enterprise agreement provides employees with the option of participating in an annual influenza vaccination program. In 2010 the program was delivered during May by Calistica Health & Wellbeing Pty Ltd.

Employee assistance program

Converge International is the provider of the courts’ employee assistance program (EAP). Converge is the largest provider of enterprise-wide people-support services in Australia. Some of these services include counselling and support about any work-related issues, such as work relationships, career counselling, conflict, and bullying and/or harassment. They also help with personal issues including relationships, stress, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, addictions, gambling, grief, loss and bereavement.

Counselling and advice can be provided to employees by telephone, face-to-face at a Converge International office, the workplace or another suitable location. A ‘manager assist’ service is also available to managers to discuss workplace issues. Converge provides generic data to the courts to guide the development of wellbeing strategies.

Peer support program

The peer support program provides a network of trained staff in the workplace to ensure that skilled support is available for immediate assistance should an individual experience a distressing situation or difficult event. This program is designed to complement the employee assistance program and allows support to be available immediately should an incident occur. Peer support officers from any location can provide assistance as required. There is no restriction on staff assessing officers from outside their immediate work area. All communication with trained peer support officers is strictly confidential.

National Consultative Committee

The Court’s National Consultative Committee (NCC) provides all employees with the opportunity to communicate, consult and share information between themselves and the Court. NCC employee representatives are elected by their peers to communicate openly, effectively and honestly at committee meetings, and then to provide feedback and briefings to the employees they represent. This committee is being reorganised to include representation from the Federal Magistrates Court.

Staff turnover

During 2009-10, 57 employees and judicial officers left the Court. Of these, 35 were ongoing employees, representing an annual turnover rate of 15 per cent against staff numbers at 30 June 2010.

Occupational health and safety

The Court recognises that effective health and safety management reduces the social and financial costs of occupational injury and illness.

Throughout 2009–10 the Court has:

  • developed and implemented health and safety management arrangements which document the management of occupational health and safety within the Court
  • developed and implemented a first aid policy
  • rolled out national training (workplace prevention and injury management) to all court managers and supervisors, and
  • initiated national training to all front line employees on ‘how to deal with difficult and persistent clients’.

The Court’s occupational health and safety employee benefits include advice on ergonomic workstations, provision of ergonomic furniture, access to a free employee assistance program, annual influenza vaccinations, eyesight testing, access to peer support officers, first aid officers and harassment contact officers.

Whilst the Court’s local occupational health and safety committees continued to meet throughout 2009–10, there was also wide consultation with staff on the health and safety management arrangements.

New manager NEC

Sally Mashman was appointed as manager of the National Enquiry Centre (NEC). Sally joined the Federal Magistrates Court in 2000 as an associate to former Federal Magistrate (now Justice) Ryan at the Parramatta Registry. Sally has also worked as a project officer in the Federal Magistrates Court Strategic Planning Unit, as the regional services coordinator in John Maddison Tower and in the Chambers of the Chief Federal Magistrate.

Worker’s compensation

The Court continued to manage its workers compensation cases proactively with only one claim being lodged during the financial year.

Performance pay

As part of the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia Collective Agreement 2006–2009, a performance bonus of 3 per cent of salary was paid to employees who have been at the top of the salary range of their classification for a period of at least six months as at 30 June each year and who receive a final overall performance rating of ‘meeting requirements’ or higher at their performance assessment in June each year.

 

Salary level

Eligible staff

Average payment ($)

Total payments ($)

EL1

$81 371 – $95 956

9

2707

24 363

APS 5

$58 744 – $63 204

19

1930

36 670

APS 4

$53 305 – $57 765

6

1772

10 632

Total

 

34

 

71 665

Information, Communication and Technology Services

Information, Communication and Technology Services (ICTS) works closely with members of the Court to promote efficient design and operation of the Court’s information management processes and associated technologies.

PC/laptop deployment project

The PC/laptop deployment project aimed to refresh the IT equipment for federal magistrates in their chambers across the country. The project commenced in December 2008 and during the early months, the project team captured the equipment requirements and undertook a procurement exercise. The equipment was then arranged to be delivered to the registries as per the requirements. The project offered selection of equipment ranging from PCs with 22 inch monitors to laptops— D630s and D430s. The outcome of the project enabled the organisation to refresh the IT equipment for federal magistrates, improving reliability and performance. It also aligns the equipment with equipment that has already been deployed for judges.

Audio integration for courtrooms

In February 2009, work commenced on providing a more efficient fixed teleconference setup for each courtroom. The project enables court microphones and speakers to be connected together so that the main input to the conference is coming via the microphones and the output is transmitted through the courtroom speakers. Auscript was engaged for the implementation primarily because they had won a tender to provide sound recording and transcription services throughout the Court, thus offering additional benefit such as compatibility, serviceability and single point of ongoing support. The work required for implementation of this project was closely linked to the sound recording services already provided by Auscript and it was seen as more cost effective and efficient to engage one vendor to provide audio integration and sound recording across the courtrooms. The project implementation to deliver integrated teleconferencing was completed at the end of September 2009.

Courtroom technology project

Over the past 18 months, the Court has been upgrading the audio and visual capability of courtrooms in eight locations. The Federal Magistrates Court and Family Court jointly decided the priorities for upgrade, with the courtrooms selected used by judges or federal magistrates. The modernised equipment offers significant improvements through an integrated system with a touch panel that controls and manages the technology. It is reliable, consistent and simple to use. The on-site upgrade was delivered in two stages during 2009–10:

  • In Stage 1, four courtrooms in the regional registries of Hobart, Cairns, Darwin and Dandenong were upgraded. Work was completed in December 2009.
  • In Stage 2, twelve courtrooms in the Brisbane, Sydney, Parramatta and Melbourne registries were upgraded. Work was completed in June 2010.

Training was delivered to staff and judicial officers concurrent with both stages. At 30 June 2010, the project implementation review was being finalised.

Transcription services

In July 2009, Auscript became the single provider of services to the Family Law Courts. It then built upon the state-of-the-art digital audio recording platform implemented in the Family Law Courts during 2009–10, which enabled Auscript to monitor hearings from a centralised location, entirely removed from the courtroom. Associates and court staff were provided with access to Auscript’s online CourtChat service, which gives users live access to the Auscript client services team.

The technology update has already proven its value, for example, by improved quality of teleconferencing and greater access to audio of hearings via the AuscriptOnline hearing review portal. Both changes have been welcomed by the judiciary and court staff.

During 2009–10, Auscript produced:

  • 12 901 individual hearing recordings, capturing 44 445 hours of audio, and
  • 6069 transcripts of hearings and judgments.

These resulted in a total production of 544 687 folios for the year—most of which were funded by users of the courts.

Automation of Federal Magistrates Court family law lists

Automation of the publication of Federal Magistrates Court family law lists on the Internet is completed and lists are now being updated direct from Casetrack as of 1 September 2009. This process means that instead of each registry having to manually email their lists each day to the webmaster for further manual uploading, the entire process is now fully automated.

PABX replacement

VoIP Pty Ltd (VPL) was selected by the Federal Magistrates Court and Family Court as the contractor for the PABX replacement project. The project will provide all judicial officers and staff from both courts with access to updated voice technology and provide significant savings in our ongoing telecommunications costs. Parramatta registry and the NEC was the first of our stand alone sites to be upgraded and we are working closely with the High Court and the Federal Court in providing these improvements into our shared Commonwealth Law Court buildings as soon as possible. It is expected that the new technology will be installed in all registries by the end of August 2010.

Commonwealth Courts Portal

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

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

Enhancements during 2009–10 included:

  • The release of Stage 2 in September 2009. It allows applicants to initiate a new Application for Divorce by completing an online form, paying by credit card, selecting a first return date from a range of dates and then printing out a sealed copy of the application for service on the respondent. This activity also automatically creates a new file in Casetrack complete with party, listing and payment details that also can be viewed inside the portal. By 30 June 2010, 3879 divorces had been filed online (in the Federal Magistrates Court).
  • A simpler registration procedure and an improved administration facility for portal administrators within law firms.
  • A new overall look and feel for the portal, including a ‘dashboard’ for users that incorporates a court diary showing listings for the user’s files for the current month, recently accessed files, activity on files, and new events.
  • Work was also progressed on a new more user-friendly ‘landing’ page after the login screen and a section on that page for portal news.

Use of the portal grew noticeably during 2009–10. At 30 June:

  • 1279 law firms had registered for eFiling, compared with 667 at 30 June 2009, and
  • 24 073 individual users had registered, compared with 5900 at 30 June 2009.

This comprised:

  • 2827 lawyers registered with those 1279 law firms
  • 3854 self-represented litigants, and
  • members of the public, journalists, academics, judicial officers and staff of the courts.

One of the significant benefits of the portal is that it has allowed people to eFile supplementary documents in family law matters since August 2008. The table below provides a registry-by-registry breakdown of the number of supplementary documents that were eFiled in the Federal Magistrates Court and Family Court during 2009–10. Brisbane registry received 35.7 per cent of all supplementary documents via eFiling, the Melbourne and Sydney registries received 19.3 per cent and 11.3 per cent respectively.

Documents eFiled in the Federal Magistrates Court and Family Court, 2008–09 and 2009–10

 

2008–09

2009–10

Adelaide

191

1679

Albury

3

18

Alice Springs

1

Brisbane

943

9077

Cairns

10

64

Canberra

5

643

Coffs Harbour

26

114

Dandenong

66

832

Darwin

13

129

Dubbo

9

Hobart

27

85

Launceston

15

311

Lismore

57

174

Melbourne

425

4904

Newcastle

52

1046

Parramatta

187

2029

Rockhampton

33

374

Sydney

125

2870

Townsville

35

634

Wollongong

10

102

TOTAL

2250

25 095

A further 364 documents were eFiled in the Family Court of Western Australia.

Disaster recovery plan

The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) division reviewed the disaster recovery plan that covers the provision of support for critical services in the event of a possible disaster.

The plan ensures that the courts have a duplicate ICT infrastructure located offsite for services including Casetrack, Finance 1 and Objective. In the event of a disaster, processing would be transferred to the disaster recovery data centre.

Information and knowledge analysis project

The information and knowledge analysis project is a court-wide study of information and knowledge use, accessibility and management covering people, processes and technology.

Over six months, the knowledge and information services and systems team conducted 96 interviews (interview length ranged from 75–210 minutes) and held three workshops with staff in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney.

Initial information architecture documents are being developed and a final report is being prepared which will determine:

  • how knowledge and information currently flows within the Court
  • whether staff have the information they need ‘at their fingertips’
  • whether the knowledge that resides within the courts’ people and systems could be better shared
  • any gaps or duplication of information, and
  • what improvements can be made to the management of information to ensure its quality and availability.

Records management

There has been a substantial amount of work achieved in the records management area over 2009–10.

  • Chief Executive Instructions for both courts on record keeping were developed and endorsed by the CEO
  • the Federal Magistrates Court records management policy was redrafted
  • Objective EDRMS was upgraded, integrating the system with Lotus Notes, making it easier for staff to manage their documents and correspondence
  • the human resources filing system was revised with new electronic file measures implemented
  • the records management e-learning module was revised and relaunched as part of information awareness week, and
  • advice was provided to family consultants about the formulation of guidelines for the ‘storage, release and disposal of child dispute records’ in conjunction with the records authority.

Information awareness week

The inaugural information awareness week was held from 24–30 May 2010. The week was highly successful with significant levels of engagement and positive feedback from employees at all levels.

The week was themed around the following topics:

  • data quality
  • records awareness
  • information access
  • information security, and
  • records sentencing and disposal.

Each day was supported by individual intranet page content which highlighted news articles, legislation and quotes relevant to the themes of the day. Other competitions and initiatives were held which increased staff engagement and participation and intranet statistics supported the project’s success.

The week also profiled five court employees and highlighted the role that information plays in their working days. These employees were Rubina Lockley (NEC), Wayne Sharp (Business Systems Development Officer), Melissa Townsend (Collector of Public Monies), Michelle Hamilton (Client Service Officer) and Johanna Muldoon (Deputy Associate).

Data quality

A data quality framework was developed for the Family Law Courts. Considerable work has been undertaken to review our governance approach to data management and data quality. A high level data management framework and specific plans have been drafted including statements of principles, goals, roles and responsibilities. These documents provide the foundation for a range of practical actions which involve all staff.

As part of the governance framework, a data quality board has been established with a strategic view of data and information quality initiatives. Its membership is:

  • Steve Agnew, Acting Deputy CEO
  • Stephen Andrew, Acting Executive Director Client Services and Executive Director Information,

Communication and Technology Services

  • Phil Hocking, Business Development Manager
  • Paul Webster, Acting Manager Information Management
  • Brigid Costello, Manager Knowledge and Information Systems and Services

An information quality plan was developed and a working group was established to monitor and resolve information quality issues within the courts. This group is looking at all the issues that impact information quality including findability, format, content, relevance and timeliness.

A Casetrack data quality working party has been established and practical initiatives are under way including a review of the current housekeeping reports, reviewing data quality targets and performance measures, prioritising action to address identified data quality issues, reviewing the Casetrack business rules to ensure they support the entry of quality data, considering the implementation of validations for certain data, and the establishment of a data quality email address for staff to log issues and make suggestions (dataquality@familylawcourts.gov.au).

The Client Services Senior Managers Group has identified data quality as a strategic priority and has a central responsibility for maintaining this focus. An intranet page has also been developed about data quality.

Website statistics

Month

Home page hits

July 2009

31 078

August 2009

16 722

September 2009

26 945

October 2009

31 408

November 2009

30 550

December 2009

26 073

January 2010

26 073

February 2010

33 726

March 2010

38 928

April 2010

31 389

May 2010

32 103

June 2010

27 928

National communications

National communications is responsible for building, promoting and protecting the reputation of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia, and for positioning and promoting the role of the courts to both internal and external audiences. 

Throughout 2009–10, the Court continued to produce a range of brochures and fact sheets encompassing all areas of its jurisdiction. The Court’s website: www.fmc.gov.au is the primary communication tool for providing information about the Court. Information available from the site includes details on court processes, forms, fees and charges, dispute resolution, relevant legislation, publications, circuit details, daily court listings, the Commonwealth Courts Portal, as well as contact details and corporate information. The website is regularly updated and provides a subscription service.

In addition to providing public information through the Court’s website, information on family law is provided through the Family Law Courts website: www.familylawcourts.gov.au This website is shared with the Family Court and provides a centralised location for all information relating to the federal family law courts.

Children’s art competition

The Family Law Courts’ children’s art competition was held in 2009–10 with the winners announced at year’s end. The competition theme was ‘My Beautiful World’ and more than 150 entries were received from throughout Australia. Ten winners each received a personally engraved MP3 player, with 13 entrants receiving a highly commended certificate.

The courts introduced the competition in 2008 and it is held in alternate years. It is one approach that has been adopted to raise the ‘human face’ of the courts with the general community, particularly with children, their parents and carers.

Artwork from entrants is well-regarded in the courts. For example, it is used in publications, promotional products and in displays at registries—the places at which children will most likely have interactions with the courts.

The competition was promoted in various ways: through registries, through school education departments, through family relationship centres, the courts’ websites and the Family Law Courts website.

Staff newsletter survey

In December 2009, the Family Law Courts national communication office conducted an all staff survey to determine what staff want and don’t want in the staff newsletter. The responses and comments from staff were positive and similar to results of the survey conducted in 2004. On the whole staff are satisfied with the content, the look of the newsletters and find the articles informative and easy to read. However, there were a few suggestions on ways to improve the newsletters:

  • 66 per cent opted for an electronic newsletter over a printed newsletter.
  • The majority of staff indicated they would like four issues per year. The Court Exchange is now distributed four times per year as Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer editions.
  • Most staff expressed an interest in seeing more staff and registry focused articles. To incorporate this, the newsletters now include a new ‘staff updates’ section.

Internal communication

Work was undertaken on numerous internal communication activities including the collective agreement, the restructure of client services, the CEO’s road-show to all registries as part of the integration of the administrations, environmental management, the implementation of the change to divorce orders and the Parramatta memorial function.

The Court’s staff and judicial officers are informed of significant changes and events through the following:

  • Chief Federal Magistrate eMessages
  • CEO eMessages
  • Chief Executive Instructions
  • Client service advices n The Court Exchange n Intranet messages

New and updated forms and publications

Communications is responsible for publishing all Federal Magistrates Court and Family Court brochures, reports, forms and newsletters.

New products published during the financial year include:

  • Federal Magistrates Court of Australia Annual Report 2008–09 and summary brochure
  • Indonesian publications
  • Service charter and service commitments
  • Indigenous clients and the Family Law Courts
  • Subpoena—information for a person requesting the issue of a subpoena
  • Subpoena—information for a person served with a subpoena or copy of a subpoena
  • Notice of Request to Inspect (FMC)

Publications, forms and brochures redrafted during the financial year include:

  • Marriage, families and separation
  • Court Fees
  • eFiling user guide
  • Commonwealth Courts Portal
  • Parenting Orders—obligations, consequences and who can help
  • Complaints and Feedback
  • Application for divorce
  • Going to court—tips for your court hearing
  • Divorce service kit
  • Affidavit non-filing of family dispute resolution certificate
  • Document request form
  • Do you need information about the Family Law Courts?
  • Applying to the Court for orders
  • The Family Law Courts and your privacy
  • Do you have fears for your safety when attending court?

Media

The past reporting year was the first full year of operating with a single media manager for the management of media issues for both the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court.

In 2009–10 the Court’s media manager received 49 enquiries from various media outlets for matters specific to the Federal Magistrates Court. An additional 121 enquiries were received that related to family law generally and the Family Court. Further to these, there were numerous telephone enquiries which were answered as a one-off and not treated as a formal request for information from the courts.

The Court’s media manager was invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Law Institute of Victoria’s Family Law Conference held in Melbourne on 16 October 2009, contributing views about the issues and difficulties in dealing with family law and the needs of the media.

The Federal Magistrates Court issued two media releases during the year which related to two cases in which publication orders were made allowing the details of missing children to be published to assist in their recovery.

The media manager oversees the coordination of media coverage for publication orders that have been made by the Court. This process involves developing media releases and public information, liaising with legal representatives and their clients, the Australian Federal Police media unit and managing media enquiries.

In 2009–10 the Court issued six publication orders, compared to one that was issued the previous year. With such a large number of publication orders at hand, in March 2010 the media manager initiated a story with a publication that ran a front page (plus two-page spread) that focused on seeking information on the missing children that were subject of the publication orders. This story was syndicated to other publications nationally. Such widespread coverage lead to the relatively quick recovery of all but one of the children and by the end of the financial year, all of the children had been recovered due to information provided to the Australian Federal Police following the media activity.

A key method of communicating directly with the Court’s stakeholders is through the email subscription service which the Court provides through its website. In 2009–10 there were 218 email alerts released to subscribers, with most providing details on the Court’s published judgments. Other subject areas included general news, forms and legislation, papers and brochures, missing children and practice directions.

In 2009–10, approximately 360 reports were published in the print media referring to the Federal Magistrates Court, compared to 300 in the previous year. There seemed to be a significant increase in journalists’ awareness of the Court’s published decisions and therefore an increased number of reports that directly covered these decisions, particularly in The Australian.

Issues that received a significant amount of coverage included:

  • industrial relations matters
  • family violence, relocation and shared parenting issues, and
  • the Government’s proposed re-structure of the federal court system.

Federal magistrates and staff of the Court were informed of relevant media coverage involving the Court and areas of its jurisdiction through the ‘In the Press’ service which was provided on each working day of 2009–10.

Work commenced during the year in reviewing the Court’s media monitoring service and a new contract will be entered into in the new financial year, 2010–11.

Translated information products

During 2009–10, publications in languages other than English were reviewed to incorporate rule amendments and changes to court services. The Family Law Courts have 11 publications translated into ten languages. The translations are fact sheets, being summaries of the full English versions with simplified information written in question and answer format. This is the preferred format for translated information as some legal terms and court processes do not translate well into other languages.

The provision of translated information is essential to support access to justice for clients with English as a second language.

Languages available

Arabic
Filipino
Greek
Korean
Serbian
Simplified Chinese
Traditional Chinese
Spanish
Turkish
Vietnamese

Publications translated

Marriage, families and separation

Before you file—pre-action procedure for financial cases Subpoena—information for requesting person Enforcement hearings

Third party debt notices Key contacts

Compliance with parenting orders

Going to Court—tips for your court hearing

What the Family Law Courts staff can and cannot do for clients Do you have fears for your safety when attending court?

Parenting orders—obligations, consequences and who can help?

In addition, the Court’s migration brochure was translated into 20 different languages. Those languages were: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Farsi, Filipino, Gujarati, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Malayalam, Mongolian, Nepalese, Punjabi, Russian, Sinhalese, Spanish, Tamil, Thai, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

PIO conference – April 2010

Communications was responsible for organising the 2nd Public Information Officers (PIO) conference for all communication and media managers from courts Australia-wide. Held in the Chief Justice’s Chambers in Melbourne, participants discussed significant achievements and shared learnings based on each Court’s experiences in dealing with the media and general communication issues. The group also heard from retired Supreme Court Judge the Honourable Philip Cummins and Herald Sun journalist Norrie Ross. The conference is held every two years.

Copyright

National communications received and processed 25 copyright requests from external organisations seeking permission to use or reproduce information published by the courts.

Photoshoot

In May 2010, a professional photoshoot was conducted at the Sydney registry and John Maddison Tower to increase the courts’ photographic library.

New judicial stationery

In April 2010 a new procedure was introduced for federal magistrates stationery. The package, consisting of a business card, letterhead, with compliments slip and notepad, standardised judicial stationery across the courts and provides cost benefits through a central ordering system.

External communication and marketing

Communication and marketing plans were developed for the Commonwealth Courts Portal, the biennial fee increase and environmental management.

External collaboration

National communication worked with numerous external organisations on shared products including:

  • editing, design and printing of two Indonesian reports in English and Bahasa Indonesian (AusAID)
  • Your rights following CSA decisions (Child Support Agency)
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Law and Justice Services in the ACT (ACT Department of Justice and Community Safety)
  • Parent factsheets for a CSA pre-teen product (Child Support Agency)
  • The parent’s guide to child support (Child Support Agency), and
  • information about the courts’ Integrated Client Service Delivery Program was prepared for the Living is for Everyone (LiFE) website (www.livingisforeveryone.com.au).

Joint Client Service Charter and Service Commitments

During 2009–10, the separate service charters of the Federal Magistrates Court and Family Court were amalgamated. The joint Service Charter sets out the service level standards clients can expect from dealing with staff of the courts and how clients and other users of court services may make suggestions or complaints about services, policy, practice or procedures. This document is available at www.fmc.gov.au and on the Family Law Courts website www.familylawcourts.gov.au

The joint summary Service Commitments document is on display at all registries and on the websites. It highlights what clients of the courts can expect from client service staff, what the staff cannot do, clients rights and responsibilities and how clients can help the courts to help them.

Security

The Marshals Office provides a wide range of security services to both the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court. They interact as necessary with other Commonwealth jurisdictions, police and security contractors to ensure the effective operation of our security guarding, electronic security, law enforcement and judicial security needs.

The Marshals Office oversights security alarm maintenance and monitors an average of 100 judicial residential alarms and 50 registry alarms per month.

New Deputy Marshal

Jim Browne was appointed to the position of Deputy Marshal of the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court in April 2010. Jim brings extensive experience in policy, security, law enforcement and operational areas to the role, having worked in executive positions within the border protection and intelligence arenas.

Access control project

Following years of effort, work on our complex national Access Control Project is nearing completion. The national system facilitating the access control needs of the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court in all our leased premises is also used by other federal jurisdictions such as the Federal Court, High Court and Family Court of Western Australia in all Commonwealth Law Court buildings. The Marshals Office continues to play a key role in coordinating these highly complex arrangements. The system caters for millions of controlled access events per year.

Commonwealth protective security

The Marshals Office works to ensure compliance with detailed federal protective security policy. In August 2010 an external security expert was commissioned to conduct a comprehensive Security Risk Assessment of all Commonwealth Law Court and leased premises locations. Deputy Marshal Jim Browne also developed the Court’s overarching Security Plan.

Civil enforcement warrants

Greg Thomas, Adelaide Registry Manager has been appointed Deputy Marshal specifically for the purpose of assisting the Marshal discharge his responsibilities in relation to the execution of a significant number of civil enforcement warrants.

Court security working group

Court security arrangements help create the conditions in which the courts can operate in the public interest. They protect the judges and staff of the courts, as well as litigants, witnesses and members of the public. As their purpose is to protect courts operating under Chapter III of the Constitution exercising the judicial power of the Commonwealth, these arrangements are a critical precondition for the effective administration of justice. The foundation of security arrangements now is in the common law and the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971. These have given rise to some uncertainty as well as to practical difficulty and inconvenience. Since 2005, the courts have worked with the Executive Government, represented by the Attorney General’s Department, to develop proposals for a new legislative framework to ground better the practical security arrangements required. Much work has been done and a set of practical proposals have been developed. This work continues to be pressed through the Court Security Working Group, a group comprising the executive as well as courts and tribunals.

Property

Property is responsible for the delivery of the courts’ national property and accommodation initiatives, the management of outsourced property services contracts, the project management of building fit-outs and alterations and the management of the courts sustainability initiatives.

Changes to John Maddison Tower

For almost two years, the Federal Court provided registry services on level 12 at John Maddison Tower (JMT). Due to the increasing financial pressures and staffing reductions within the Federal Court, they are no longer able to continue to provide registry services in both JMT and Queens Square. From 12 October 2009, the Federal Court has combined the resources of both registries into one registry located on level 17 Queens Square.

The federal magistrates at JMT have enjoyed a close and cooperative working relationship with the registry staff and have valued their contribution to the effective running of the Court.

To provide litigants with a point of contact in JMT, the Court has introduced an enquiry counter on level 6. This counter was initially attended by two Court staff, Sharon Polley and Richard Rondell, whose primary role is to redirect litigants to Queens Square for filing of documents and registry service. Sharon and Richard have had training with the Federal Court to gain a greater understanding of the enquiries that are directed to the registry.

Sydney registry refurbishment

Melbourne Cup Day 2009 marked the opening of a newly refurbished level 8 of the Lionel Bowen Commonwealth Law Courts building. Justice Finn (Family Court) officially opened the floor and was joined by members of the Full Court, Chief Federal Magistrate Pascoe, judges, federal magistrates and Sydney staff to celebrate the event. The refurbishment on level 8 has resulted in modern, well equipped conference facilities, a hearing room with video conference facilities, meeting rooms and a reception area with a large client waiting room. The reaction to the refurbishment by the judiciary, staff and clients has been overwhelmingly positive with everyone enjoying the contemporary feel. Sydney registry now looks forward to the refurbishment of level 9 which is due to be completed by the end of the year.

Newcastle

The Newcastle registry was partly refurbished in 2009–10. The works included a general office upgrade and an additional courtroom. The registry now has four courtrooms for five judicial officers. The project has provided both improved facilities and improved safety for staff and clients.

Brisbane

During 2009–10, planning and consultation occurred on the intended co-location of judicial officers from the Federal Magistrates Court and Family Court on level 9 at the Brisbane Commonwealth Law Courts building. This followed a review of accommodation in 2009 and will provide three extra judicial chambers, a new common room and an upgraded conference facility. Three areas on the floor are to be altered. Construction is due to be completed by December 2011.

Launceston

During 2009–10 there were ongoing issues with the lift in the building which had a significant impact on the Court’s functionality, with litigants, practitioners and the judiciary having to use the stairs. Whilst the lift issue was rectified, the issue highlighted the age and deteriorating services within the building. The current lease expiry is July 2013, however it is recommended that a market test be conducted to ascertain what options there is in Launceston for the courts.

Cairns

During 2009–10 courtroom 1 was refurbished. The budget was capped at $35 000 and the work included new timber veneer, recarpeting, replacement of the fabric wall covering with painted plaster board and new blinds.

Environmental management

The Court continued to seek to minimise the impact of its activities on the environment during the year by:

  • participating nationally in Earth Hour to contribute to energy savings
  • installing energy efficient lighting, including automated lighting controls, in all refurbishments
  • engaging an Environmental Manager to specifically review and manage the environmental performance of the Court
  • developing an Environmental Policy, signed by the CEO and available for all staff via the intranet
  • reviewing request for tender documents for relevant new contracts to ensure environmental considerations are included where feasible
  • regularly testing cooling towers and water features in court buildings, in accordance with statutory requirements
  • rolling out a national program of server virtualisation so that fewer servers are required
  • providing energy consumption data to the Australian Greenhouse Office as part of whole-of- government energy reporting
  • conducting a national review of sites to benchmark availability of existing environmental practices such as recycling, energy conservation and water conservation
  • piloting a level 2 energy audit at the Darwin registry, with the aim of rolling out more energy audits in 2010–11 at both Commonwealth courts and regional registries, and
  • commencing work on a comprehensive Environmental Management Statement.

New property manager

Akasha Atkinson joined the Court on 27 July 2009 as the new national property manager, based at the National Support Office in Canberra. Akasha has over 15 years experience in both the private and public sector having previously been employed as:

  • Director, Property, Accommodation and Environmental Services, Department of Human Services
  • Director, Property and Accommodation Services, Child Support Agency, and
  • Property Manager, United Group Services.

Finance

Finance is responsible for accounts processing, including travel entitlements; administrative support for National Support Office (NSO), including phone and mail communications; salary packaging services; asset reporting and control systems; cash management; external reporting services, including the annual financial statements; management of the courts’ taxation obligations; and support for Finance1, the court’s Financial Management Information System.

Financial management

During 2009–10 the Finance and Systems team continued to focus on improving service delivery and meeting stakeholder expectations.

The major deliverables included:

  • the successful implementation of direct debit functionality in the courts’ Financial Management Information System to enable legal firms to pay any court fees through this functionality. This required an upgrade to Finance 1
  • recognition by the ANAO of high quality systems and controls that enabled the generation of two sets of financial statements with no interim or final audit findings
  • revisions to the chief executive instructions, delegations and various manuals to ensure compliance with the Financial Management Act and Regulations 1997, and
  • establishment of a taxation compliance team which has resulted in a significant reduction in processing time and external review of both courts taxation returns.

Asset management

The Court engaged licenced valuers in October 2009 to assist with the identification, categorisation and condition assessment of all leasehold assets held in the various court locations for both the Federal Magistrates Court and Family Court which required a revaluation of both court’s infrastructure plant and equipment. This project, which ran for nine months, resulted in accurate and reliable asset information that will enable both courts to meet the capital planning requirements promulgated by the Department of Finance and Deregulation.

Budgets and business improvements

Budgets and business improvements manages internal budgeting, external budgeting, maintenance of the courts’ project management framework, project budgets, and project reporting and the provision of reporting, analysis and advice to executive and managers. 

The Court met its key external budgeting updates including the completion of the 2009–10 Portfolio Additional Estimates Statements and 2010–11 Portfolio Budget Statements.

During the year the Court underwent two internal budget reviews: mid year, and third quarter to assist in managing the Court’s financial position.

The Court has completed its budgeting process for 2010–11, updating the financial management system accordingly.

The Court continued to improve on the robust reporting regime providing monthly financial reports to the Court’s managers at a local and regional level within five working days from the end of the month. A court-wide finance report is also provided to CEO’s Management Advisory Group on a monthly basis.

During 2009–10 budgeting and reporting support was also provided to the Family Court by the budgets and business improvements team.

Procurement and risk management

Procurement and risk management is responsible for providing advice and assistance to Court staff on procurement and contract management activities, risk management, fraud control and prevention and business continuity; the management of non-standard, high risk procurement over $80 000; and maintaining the Court’s Risk Control and Compliance framework.

Internal audit

The Court has, as part of its corporate governance arrangements, appropriate mechanisms to manage general business risk as well as fraud risk.

The Court’s internal audit services were provided by Oakton Services Pty Ltd and monitored by the audit and risk committee.

The 2009–10 Internal Audit Plan was developed taking into account the risk drivers in the risk management plan and after discussion with the audit and risk committee and senior management.

Internal audits conducted during the year included:

  • human resource payroll compliance and quality assurance processes
  • human resource management performance (benchmarking diagnostics)
  • collection of revenues and the recording of these revenues in Casetrack
  • management of the executive vehicle scheme vehicles/fleet management, and
  • the review and update of the courts’ Strategic Risk Management Plan and Fraud Control Plan.

The Court’s audit and risk committee monitored the implementation of individual audit report recommendations generated by the above audits through quarterly status reports.

Fraud prevention and control

The Court’s fraud control plan was reviewed and updated during the last quarter of 2009–10. A new fraud control plan has been developed and approved by the CEO. This plan complies with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines 2002. There were no instances or allegations of fraud against the Court reported for 2009–10.

Risk management

The Court promotes a culture that supports the identification, analysis, assessment, treatment, monitoring and review of all strategic, operational, compliance and financial risks. This is supported by the Court’s risk control and compliance framework—a risk management approach grounded in the Australian/New Zealand Risk Management Standard (AS/NZS IS0 31000: 2009).

During 2009–10, the Court continued to participate in the annual Comcover benchmarking survey, which measures risk and assesses the extent of cultural change within agencies. The Court’s overall result continued to improve, reflecting the implementation of the Court’s risk control and compliance framework.

Work commenced on developing a single business continuity plan for the various jurisdictions located in Commonwealth Law Courts (CLC) buildings. The Brisbane CLC was identified as a test site for this activity. The Court is working in collaboration with members of the National Law Courts building management committee on this project. At 30 June 2010, it was expected that a draft plan would be finalised in early 2010–11. Subject to assessment testing for suitability, it was anticipated that the single business continuity plan could be extended to other Commonwealth Law Courts early in 2011.

As a result of a risk management review undertaken during 2009–10, the Court committed to raising awareness of risk management with all staff. A risk awareness training package was designed for this purpose, including raising awareness of the benefits of incorporating risk assessments into business planning. Training with the package was completed during 2009–10.

The Court continuously monitors its strategic risk management plan to take into consideration new or emerging risks that may impact the achievement of the Court’s strategic objectives. The plan identifies areas of risk for the Court and the strategies required effectively managing and mitigating those risks. At 30 June, the Court was well-advanced on preparing an updated strategic risk management plan for the period 2010–2012.

Major procurement outcomes and activities

Provision of interpreting services

In September 2009 the Court undertook a request for tender process for the provision of interpreting services. While the Court had not undertaken this process for some time, it was established that different practices and suppliers were being used across all jurisdictions. The results of this process will formalise a standardised process across all jurisdictions, a common supplier base for providing these services while providing the added protection through contractual arrangements.

Provision of pabx services

In November 2009, the Court, along with a number of other participating jurisdictions, entered into an agreement with VoIP Pty Ltd for the provision of voice telecommunications switching and related services. This activity has seen the roll out of a range of new telecommunications technology. Further telecommunications, including managed end services and managed maintenance services to support these products, will be rolled out during the 2010–2011 financial year. The Family Court acted as the lead agency for all jurisdictions for this activity.

Contract management training

In June 2010 the procurement and risk management section coordinated training for key managers responsible for procurement activities within the Court. This training was well attended and covered all aspects from legislative, policy and procedural requirements.