Message from the Chief Executive Officer

This report outlines the major achievements of the administration of the courts during 2012.

Some of the highlights include:

  • continued growth in eFiling and registrations with the Commonwealth Courts Portal
  • completion of a major user satisfaction survey
  • implementation of new family violence amendments
  • winning the 2011 AIJA award for excellence in judicial administration for the YEAG initiative
  • winning silver in the IPAA annual report awards for the FMC annual report
  • launch of the new online performance management system, and
  • launch of Connections to increase collaboration across the courts.

We continue to do some amazing work despite the financial pressures that have been facing us for some years. We had some encouraging news in September when the Attorney-General announced that the courts will receive budget supplementation of $26.1m over the next four years. This means the savings strategies previously identified by the courts will be progressed to achieve a balanced budget in 2012–13 and 2013–14, without the need for drastic job losses. This includes reductions in Regulation 7 spend, travel and general administration, integration of the divorce workload and a realignment of the services provided by the National Enquiry Centre. It also means the courts are able to maintain presence in rural and regional Australia, and that appointments of judicial officers to the current vacancies in both courts can proceed.

I would like to acknowledge the work of Stephen Andrew, Simon Kelso, Grahame Harriott and Nathan Lozberis, who in partnership with Sara Samios and Susan Prunster from the Attorney-General’s Department, prepared the submission. In the current fiscal environment, the outcome is an outstanding result. For more information about the budget supplementation see page 43.

Thank you for your ongoing support.

Richard Foster PSM
Chief Executive Officer
Family Court of Australia

Acting Chief Executive Officer
Federal Magistrates Court of Australia

2 October 2012

Reader’s Guide

PART 1 Family Court of Australia year in review—highlights significant issues and initiatives the Family Court has undertaken during the reporting year.

PART 2 Federal Magistrates Court year in review—highlights significant issues and initiatives the Federal Magistrates Court has undertaken during the reporting year.

PART 3 Overview of the Family Law Courts—information about the courts’ combined projects and the performance of the registries and the National Enquiry Centre.

Part 1 – Family Court of Australia

The Family Court of Australia, through its specialist judges and staff, assists Australians to resolve their most complex legal family disputes. The Family Court of Australia is a superior court of record established by Parliament in 1975 under Chapter III of the Constitution.

It commenced operations on 5 January 1976 and consists of a Chief Justice, a Deputy Chief Justice and other judges. The Court maintains registries in all Australian states and territories except Western Australia.

Organisational structure as at 30 June 2012

Organisational structure as at 30 June 2012

Senior executives

Chief Executive Officer

Richard Foster PSM FAIM

The Chief Justice, under the Family Law Act, is responsible for the administration of the Court and is assisted by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The CEO’s powers are broad (s38d), although subject to directions from the Chief Justice (s 38D(3)). The CEO holds the responsibilities and powers of an agency head under Commonwealth financial management and public service legislation, but is appointed under terms similar to those of judicial officers. The CEO is supported by the staff of the National Support Office and is located in the National Support Office, Canberra.

Principal Registrar

Angela Filippello

The Principal Registrar provides high level legal and procedural advice to support the judicial functioning of the Family Court. As a senior lawyer, she discharges the statutory duties assigned to that position by the Family Law Act 1975, works closely with the Chief Justice and judges in administering the Act and related legislation, and identifies areas in need of reform. The Principal Registrar presides in court and holds the delegated power to make orders in interim parenting cases, maintenance cases and some enforcement of financial obligations. The Principal Registrar also oversees the performance of, and provides direction to, the Court’s registrars. Her chambers are in the Brisbane registry.

Principal Child Dispute Services

Pam Hemphill

The Principal Child Dispute Services is responsible for advising the Chief Justice and the Chief Executive Officer on the provision of quality child dispute services to the Court. She ensures that the services delivered by family consultants are effective and consistent with the strategic and business objectives of the Court. The Principal also has responsibility for the development of strategic external relationships that promote and position the child dispute services of the Court within the family law framework.

Executive Director Client Services

Stephen Andrew

The Executive Director Client Services is responsible for the delivery of client services in all family law registries. The Executive Director ensures that high quality registry services and support are provided to all judicial officers, litigants and legal practitioners, consistent with the strategic and business objectives of the Family Law Courts (the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court).

Executive Director Information, Communication and Technology Services

Phil Hocking (Acting)

The Executive Director Information, Communication and Technology Services provides strategic leadership and management of the Court’s applications, information management and infrastructure services.

Executive Director Corporate

Grahame Harriott

The Executive Director Corporate provides strategic leadership and management of the Court’s human resources, property and contracts, finance, budgets and business improvements and procurement and risk management.

Staffing profile

At 30 June 2012, the Court had 601 employees (excluding judicial officers, the Chief Executive Officer and casual employees) covered by the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia Enterprise Agreement 2011–14 or Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs). This was a 2.28 per cent decrease compared with 615 employees at 30 June 2011.

Ongoing staff by location and classification
Level ACT CJ NSO NSW NT QLD SA TAS VIC Total
APS 1       1           1
APS 2 1   2 16   14 4   17 54
APS 3 4   9 70 4 31 14 6 34 172
APS 4 3 1 17 37   17 5 3 12 95
APS 5 1 1 18 19 1 11 2 3 8 64
APS 6 1 2 28 4   1 4   3 43
EL 1 4   33 23   15 6 3 16 100
EL 2 1 1 14 22   11 3 2 10 64
SES 1     2 1   1     1 5
SES 2     3             3
Total 15 5 126 193 5 101 38 17 101 601

Note: Actual occupancy at 30 June 2012 includes full and part time staff* with the exception of judicial officers and casual employees.

* All figures in the above table are based on actual headcount.

Judicial officers

At 30 June 2012, there were 30 judges of the Court, including the Chief Justice and the Deputy Chief Justice.

Total number of judges, 30 June 2012
Location Judges
New South Wales 13
Victoria 1 Chief Justice
5
Queensland 6
South Australia 2
Tasmania 1
Australian Capital Territory 1 Deputy Chief Justice
1
Total 30

Judicial officer appointments

12 July 2011
The Honourable Justice
Michael Patrick Kent

14 December 2011
The Honourable Justice
Kirsty Marion Macmillan

15 December 2011
The Honourable Justice
Judith Anne Rees

Judicial officer retirements

28 July 2011
The Honourable Justice
Peter Rose

30 November 2011
The Honourable Justice
Nahum Mushin

30 November 2011
The Honourable Justice
Robert Monteith

25 May 2012
The Honourable Justice
Rodney Burr AM

Chief Justice honoured in Australia Day awards

Chief Justice Bryant was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her distinguished service to the judiciary and to the law. The Chief Justice was also recognised for her service to family law policy reform and practice, through the establishment of the Federal Magistrates Court, and to the advancement of women in the legal profession.

The awards were announced on Australia Day by Governor-General, Quentin Bryce.

This is not the first time Chief Justice Bryant has been recognised for outstanding contribution to her field. In 2001 Her Honour was awarded a Centenary Medal for her service as the inaugural Chief Federal Magistrate.

The Order of Australia was instituted by Her Majesty the Queen in 1975 and was established as a way of honouring and recognising Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or for meritorious service.

Justice Benjamin appointed to Family Law Council

Congratulations to Justice Robert Benjamin who was appointed to the Family Law Council in June 2012.

The Family Law Council is a statutory authority established under section 115 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Family Law Act). It commenced operation in November 1976. The functions of the Council, as set out in section 115(3) of the Family Law Act, are to advise and make recommendations to the Attorney-General concerning:

  • the workings of the Family Law Act and other legislation relating to family law
  • the working of legal aid in relation to family law, and
  • any other matters relating to family law.

The Council may provide advice and recommendations either of its own motion or at the request of the Attorney-General.

Vale

Robert John Bulley

The Honourable Robert John Bulley passed away on 4 March 2012.

His Honour commenced work with the Court in 1977 after receiving an Arts/Law degree from the University of Queensland. His Honour’s career with the Court spanned 18 years and saw him gain the respect and admiration of many colleagues. His time on the Bench was described as ‘one in which he displayed great knowledge of the law and also showed gentleness, compassion and an ability to put parties at ease’.

In addition to his role with the Court, His Honour also spent time sitting on the Children’s Services Tribunal, the Mental Health Tribunal and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. He also worked as a consultant to HopgoodGanim lawyers.

John Purdy

The Honourable John Purdy passed away on 27 August 2011.

John Purdy retired from the Family Court in September 2006 after 21 years at the Parramatta registry. His Honour’s legal career commenced in 1973 when he was admitted to the Bar via the Barristers Admission Board (for people coming to law other than through university). He practiced at the Bar for a number of years and was the CEO of the NSW Law Society for five years. When interviewed before his retirement His Honour said ‘I enjoyed every moment of being a judge, it’s a profession where experience of life can be as important as knowledge of law’.

2011–12 statistics at a glance

  • At 30 June 2012, the Court had a total workforce of 601 employees covered by the Enterprise Agreement and AWAs (excluding judicial officers, the Chief Executive Officer and casual employees), 14 less than at 30 June 2011.
  • 179 (29.78 per cent) were male and 422 (70.22 per cent) were female compared with 187 and 428, respectively, at 30 June 2011.
  • The National Enquiry Centre received approximately 399,724 telephone enquiries and sent 83,700 emails in response to enquiries.
  • 83 employees and judicial officers left the Family Court during 2011–12. Of those, 28 were non-ongoing and 51 were ongoing employees and four were holders of public office. This represents an annual turnover rate of 13.1 per cent against total staff numbers as at 30 June 2012.
  • The Court received 65 complaints about administrative matters. In addition 45 complaints were received which were not relevant to the administration of the Court. Nine compliments were recorded.
  • Information, Communication and Technology Services received 2.107 million emails from external email addresses. Of these, 1.819 million emails were delivered directly, while the remaining 288,000 messages were quarantined as containing SPAM or malicious content. During the same period, 1.254 million emails were sent to external mail accounts.
  • 22,615 requests for assistance were logged with the IT Helpdesk.
  • 206 Full Court judgments and 637 First Instance judgments were published on the Court’s website and AustLII.
  • The Court experienced significant growth in the number of media reports that specifically mentioned the Court, from approximately 691 reports in 2010–11 to 1456 reports in 2011–12.

The Court’s workload

The Court continues to deal with the most complex and difficult family law cases dealing with either children or financial issues or a combination of both. In recent years there has been a shift to a higher proportion of matters having financial issues.

Applications filed, 2011–12
Application Filed %
Final orders applications 3271 18
Application in a case (Interim) 3609 20
Consent orders applications 10,518 59
Other applications 335 2
Total 17,733 100
 
Issues sought on Applications for Final Orders
Parenting only 1151 35
Financial only 1659 51
Parenting and financial 427 13
Other 34 1

The Court’s case mix is predominantly complex cases that often involve multiple issues and higher levels of conflict between the parties. The parties in these cases are less likely to settle their dispute and therefore have a higher chance of needing a judicial decision at trial. In all the cases finalised during 2011–12, 12.9 per cent of them required a judge to make the final judgment.

Operating revenue and expenses

Total revenue for the Court in 2011–12 was $131.811 million, including appropriations from Government ($120.078 million), other revenue ($3.307 million), and other gains ($8.426 million). Other gains include liabilities assumed by related entities for the Judges Pension Scheme of $8.362 million.

Operating expenses for the 2011–12 financial year amounted to $143.196 million, being a $22.184 million reduction from 2010–11. The movement in nominal dollars is primarily a result of a decrease in contributions to the Federal Magistrates Court of $26.139 million due to appropriations associated with the restructure of federal courts being returned to the Federal Magistrates Court from 1 January 2011.

Increases across employee and suppliers categories were experienced, mainly as a result of the impact on employee provisions due to changes to the government bond rate ($1.943 million) and increased lease costs in Commonwealth Law Courts ($0.966 million).

Projects and news

35th anniversary

The Family Court celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2011 and to acknowledge that, Chief Justice Bryant hosted a formal dinner for all past and present judges in Melbourne on 25 November 2011.

The two previous chief justices of the Court, the Honourable Elizabeth Evatt and the Honourable Alastair Nicholson AO RFD, were present. The dinner was particularly special for those judges who were appointed to the Court at the time of its establishment and during its early years, including their Honours Austin Asche, Hugh Burton, John Gun, John Fogarty, Margaret Lusink and Adrian Smithers.

The early years of the Court were difficult with political, legal and social change. At the dinner, the Chief Justice noted that there was now more understanding as well as recognition of the extraordinarily difficult decisions that have to be made by the Court’s judicial officers every day.

A highlight of the evening was the presentation of a DVD featuring all judges, current and former, appointed to the Court.

Also capturing some of the early history of the Court was a book titled Born in Hope — The early years of Family Court of the Australia. Researched and written by Shurlee Swain, a professor at the Australian Catholic University, it covers the history of the first 10 years of the Court. The content of the book is an oral history based on interviews with key people who were involved in the establishment of the Court in its early days, as well as all three Chief Justices and many former judges.

Judicial leadership DVD

The Family Court and the National Judicial College of Australia jointly sponsored the production of a 30 minute DVD on judicial leadership. The DVD was used at a judicial leadership workshop in October 2011, and will be used as a future education resource. It explores the following concepts:

  • leadership and the head of jurisdiction—expectations, challenges and indicators of success
  • concepts of leadership—leadership traits, sources of leadership power, other leadership and courts and, in particular, the unique leadership challenges for courts and ideas for leading through them
  • court performance—links and implications for leadership and the head of jurisdiction, and
  • leadership and the judiciary—judges and leadership, challenges and indicators of success.

Representatives from the District Court of NSW, District Court of SA, Family Court, Federal Court, Federal Magistrates Court, Local Court of NSW, Magistrates Court of SA, Supreme Court of NSW and Supreme Court of SA participated in the project.

Website

The Family Court’s website (www.familycourt.gov.au) contains corporate information as well as court lists, judgments and legislation, notifications and practice directions. All client-based information, such as forms, publications and information about separation and divorce is on the Family Law Courts website (see page 71 for more information).

Family Court of Australia website statistics July 2011—June 2012
Month Unique visitors
July 2011 29,417
August 2011 33,388
September 2011 27,423
October 2011 26,181
November 2011 30,113
December 2011 24,731
January 2012 28,766
February 2012 30,975
March 2012 32,076
April 2012 30,691
May 2012 33,084
June 2012 30,855

Client feedback and complaints management

The Family Court is committed to responding effectively to feedback and complaints, and to complying with Australian Standard AS 4269–1995 (complaints handling) and the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Good Practice Guide for Effective Complaint Handling.

The Court’s client feedback management system allows all areas of the Court to efficiently and consistently manage complaints and client feedback, while also identifying clients’ issues and monitoring trends.

The Court has:

  • a complaints and feedback policy
  • a judicial complaints procedure, and
  • a complaints and feedback fact sheet.

The judicial complaints procedure and the fact sheet explain how clients can make complaint or provide feedback to the Court. These can be found on the Family Court website (www.familycourt.gov.au) and accessed via the ‘Quick Links’ section of the homepage (the ‘feedback’ link).

Clients can address complaints or feedback to the Court in writing, orally, or by email to clientfeedback@familycourt.gov.au. Complaints made about judicial delays or judicial conduct will be referred to the Judicial Complaints Advisor.

The Court aims to acknowledge receipt of a complaint within five working days and, where possible, to send a formal response within 20 working days of receipt of the complaint.

During 2011–12, the Family Court recorded:

  • 65 complaints about administrative matters. These are complaints relating to family law registries, which service both the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court, and include complaints about court administrative procedures and processes, staff personal conduct, privacy, security and the client feedback process
  • 17 complaints about judicial delays and 28 about judicial conduct. These matters are referred to the Judicial Complaints Advisor in the Chambers of the Deputy Chief Justice, and
  • nine compliments.

At 65, the number of administrative complaints represented 0.36 per cent of all applications received. Combined with 45 judicial complaints, complaints represented 0.6 per cent of applications received, thus achieving against the KPI (for complaints to be no more than one per cent of applications received). The figure below provides a breakdown across 10 categories of administrative complaints issues in 2011–12.

During 2011–12, the Court also recorded 132 complaints about such matters as family law legislation, matters in other jurisdictions, family assessments and reports prepared by family consultants for judicial proceedings, and the conduct and outcomes of judicial proceedings. These are matters that may not be addressed by the administration of the Court as they concern matters of law reform on the one hand, and the conduct of specific judicial proceedings on the other.

Administration complaints issues, 2011–12
Administrative process 15
Procedural information 3
Privacy 3
Security 0
Transcripts 0
Client feedback process 0
Personal conduct admin staff 6
Personal conduct family consultant 28
Personal conduct registrar 9
Family Court policy 1

As a result of client feedback during 2011–12, aside from issues being resolved for clients on an individual basis, registries reviewed staff training on mail-out procedures and correspondence management, and the National Enquiry Centre introduced an extra step to improve the procedure around communication regarding notification of change of contact details for telephone hearings.

Internal audit

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

In 2011–12, the Court’s internal audit services were provided by Oakton Services Pty Ltd and monitored by the Audit and Risk Committee.

The 2011–12 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 the senior management team.

Internal audits conducted during the year included:

  • asset management
  • collection of fees, and
  • project management.

The Audit and Risk Committee monitored the implementation of individual audit report recommendations generated as part of the above mentioned audits, through quarterly status reports.

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.

The framework provides policies, procedures and tools to promote effective risk management. The framework is available to all court staff on the intranet for the principal purpose of achieving better services and outcomes for judicial services, clients and staff.

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 its efforts in the area of risk management.

The Court continued to further revise the courts’ Business Continuity Plans (BCPs). A desktop scenario test was undertaken in the Brisbane registry in December 2011 and, at 30 June 2012, recommendations from the test were being incorporated into the BCPs.

The Procurement and Risk Management section continued to provide, as a standing agenda item, regular updates on risk related activities to the Audit and Risk Committee.

Whole-of-government ICT initiatives

During 2011–12, the Court participated in a number of whole-of-government ICT initiatives. The initial driver for these was the earlier independent review of the use of ICT across the Australian Government (the Gershon review, released in 2008 and its recommendations endorsed in full by the Government in November 2008). Following is a summary of related activities for the Court in 2011–12:

  • In October 2011, the Court submitted the annual ICT benchmarking report to AGIMO (Australian Government Information Management Office). The report covered all ICT operating and capital expenditure for 2010–11 and included quantitative measures about capacity and quantities of ICT equipment.
  • The Court also reported to AGIMO on:
    • an ICT skills survey
    • progress towards the 31 December 2012 deadline for IPv6 to be enabled on the courts’ internet gateway and websites, and
    • details of the courts’ software applications for the Government Solutions Register.
  • In May 2012, the Court submitted an ICT workforce plan to the Australian Public Service Commission, required to meet the ICT Strategic Workforce Plan 2010–2013.
  • The Court will implement the Government desktop common operating environment (COE) Policy in the Court’s standard operating environment (SOE) upgrade project in 2012–13. During 2011–12 preparations were being made for this.
  • Significant progress was made against the internal ICT Sustainability Plan, developed to address the Australian government’s ICT Sustainability Plan 2010–15.
  • Whole-of-government supply contracts are mandatory across a broad number of areas. By 30 June 2012, the Court was using the Microsoft volume sourcing arrangement, the desktop hardware panel, the telecommunications commodities, carriage and associated services panel, and the major office machines panel. This was the first year in which the major office machines panel was used by the Court.
  • As part of the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy, the Court is required to update its online government information and services to meet the WCAG 2.0 standard for website accessibility. During the year, it was working to meet the compliance deadlines. This included completing the conversion of all substantial policy documents to HTML and commencing conversion of all other substantial documents to ensure compliance.
  • The Court used the Portfolio, Program and Project Management Maturity Model (P3M3) to improve the courts’ organisational capability to commission, manage and realise benefits from ICT-enabled investments. A follow up review of the Court’s P3M3 maturity levels will be undertaken in 2012–13. During 2011–12, initial and target capability information related to this was provided to AGIMO.
  • The Court has a representative on the newly established Benchmarking Practitioner Forum sponsored by AGIMO.

In addition to the ongoing response to the Gershon Review, managed through AGIMO, the Court responded to archival requirements for information quality. It undertook the National Archives of Australia check up assessment of the courts’ information and records management capability, in response to the Government’s digital transition policy. At 30 June 2012, the assessment results were being reviewed to identify any areas of high risk in the Court’s information and records management as well as opportunities for improvement.

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 2011–12, 26 Senate estimate questions on notice were received and answered.

Australian Day achievement medallions

The Australia Day Medallions are awarded to a select group of Australian citizens each year, recognising excellence in contribution by employees of government organisations.

In 2012 the Court awarded medallions to the following staff:

Diane Lojszczyk—Newcastle registry

Diane was recognised for her outstanding contribution to the Court, and her ability to enhance the reputation of the Court. Diane worked for the Court from 1985 until 1986. She returned in 1996 as a court counsellor and has been a senior family consultant since 1998. She has been involved with various court committees and projects such as the Resource Planning Model and the Family Violence Committee, and has given presentations at numerous conferences. Diane is also the Court’s representative on the Steering Committee for the Coordinated Family Dispute Resolution Project. During her many years of service, Diane has earned a significant amount of respect and is highly regarded by the judiciary and those with whom she works.

Nathan Lozberis—National Support Office

Nathan was recognised for his continuous improvements to the Court across a range of corporate services. Nathan has been with the Court for seven years and is the courts’ Management Accounting Manager. He was directly responsible for developing the courts’ Risk Control and Compliance Framework, Project Management Framework and Management Accounting Framework. Nathan contributed significantly to the successful merger of the courts’ corporate services, including assuming increased workload and responsibilities and did so displaying the utmost professionalism, leadership, and enthusiasm at all times. Nathan is highly regarded by his clients and his colleagues.

Jolie Lamont—Canberra registry

Jolie was recognised for her outstanding service to the Court and to the Honourable Justice Finn. She has provided outstanding administrative and organisation support to Justice Finn in her capacity as the most senior Judge of the Appeal Division of the Family Court for the past six years. Jolie went above the call of duty by organising an event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Justice Finn’s appointment to the Court. In addition, Jolie is Team Leader (support) in the Canberra registry and diligently supervises and provides pastoral care and support to staff. Jolie’s friendly, professional, courteous, and cheerful disposition is a considerable benefit to the Court.

Years of service awards

Years of service awards are presented to employees who have been with the Court for more than 20, 25 and 30 years.

Recipients in 2011–12 follow.

20 years
Karen Barker Sydney
Deborah Fry Sydney
Sandra Giarrusso Townsville
Terri Gough Hobart
Lyn Howlett Adelaide
Ron Jarrett NSO
Joan Kirkwood Adelaide
Joyce Kroezen Melbourne
Jeanette Muller Brisbane
Lenard Perrett Melbourne
David Prescott Melbourne
Peter Thompson
Years of Service recipient, Peter Thompson with Richard Foster (left) and Phil Hocking (right)
NSO
Anna Warhaft Melbourne

 

25 years
Manuela Falvao Melbourne
Janine Galea Melbourne

Workforce planning

Statistics from the Agency Benchmarking Report (State of the Service Series 2010–11) noted that 23 per cent of Family Court staff were eligible to retire. Accordingly, during 2011–12 the Court developed appropriate human resource strategies to ensure future capability and resourcing to cope with staff turnover. These included, for example, adopting an ICT workforce plan, giving the Federal Magistrates Court a clearer understanding of the capacity and capability of the Court’s ICT workforce and developing a risk management strategy that strengthens succession management for critical roles and leadership positions in the Court. The strategies were communicated to managers and staff, helping to ensure that succession plans were developed at local levels.

In addition, the Court is focused on providing an inclusive, diversity-friendly workplace and ensuring equal opportunity for all its employees. Workplace diversity assists in meeting client service obligations.

The Court also has a longstanding and ongoing commitment to ensuring that the needs of its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and clients are recognised and met appropriately. It reinforces that commitment by identifying and addressing barriers to the recruitment and career development of Indigenous Australians through its recruitment policies, training and mentoring programs.

The Court facilitates access to its services for Indigenous people by ensuring that information about the Court is widely available across the Indigenous community in suitable formats and delivered in culturally appropriate ways. The Court also develops partnerships with a range of Indigenous stakeholder groups at the national and local registry levels. It also provides appropriate and ongoing education to judicial officers and staff on the cultural background of Indigenous Australians.

The Court recognises the significant contribution made by mature aged employees in the workplace. Accordingly, the Court encourages the use of the flexible working arrangements available under the Enterprise Agreement relating to the balance between work and private life as a means to retain mature aged employees beyond normal retirement age or to assist them in the transition to retirement.

The Court is committed to maintaining a workplace culture where all employees are treated with dignity and respect, so that everyone is able to contribute their best in the workplace. It is the responsibility of all employees to contribute to the ongoing achievement and maintenance of a workplace free from bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence. The Court’s Bullying and Harassment Policy was reviewed and strengthened during 2011–12 and the updated policy was communicated to all employees.

Retention strategies

Strategies to support the wellbeing of staff and to encourage staff retention are integral to the Court’s commitment to workplace diversity. The strategies include the following options, benefits and initiatives.

Balancing work and personal life

The Court recognises the need to balance the operational needs of the Court and the personal lives of staff. Its employment arrangements provide for general and individual flexible working arrangements, including flex time, time off in lieu, part-time work, working from home opportunities, overtime, purchased leave, maternity, adoption, fostering and supporting partner’s leave, salary sacrifice arrangements and paid time off work over the Christmas and New Year period.

A safe and healthy work environment

The Court provides a family-friendly and non-discriminatory work environment with strong policies against harassment and bullying. The Court and its employees are committed to measures that will assist with preventing and managing illness and injury, including psychological injuries, and assisting absent staff to return to work as soon as reasonably practical. Other healthy work environment strategies include an employee assistance program that provides free professional counselling to employees and members of their immediate families and free annual influenza vaccinations.

Workplace diversity

The Court recognises that diversity among its staff is one of its greatest assets. Valuing the distinctive characteristics in every employee, and drawing on the diversity of our backgrounds, skills, talents and views to enhance the Court’s working environment and the work of the Court, underpin the current workplace diversity plan.

International cooperation

Indonesia Australia Partnership for Justice Transition

The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) continued its support of the ongoing activities under the court-to-court Memorandum of Understanding between the Family Court and the Supreme Court of Indonesia.

In 2011–12, the Family Court and the Supreme Court of Indonesia progressed the following key areas of cooperation:

  • Access to justice—the cooperation assisted with the production and distribution (and associated training) of materials providing access to information on court policies and procedures that would enhance public access to the courts and to justice. Particular focus was on strengthening the delivery of services through information desks at Religious Courts in the first instance. These activities assisted to strengthen administrative procedures for delivering services to court users, including women (with particular focus on those faced with family violence), people with disabilities and the poor. The courts continued to share and facilitate the sharing of experiences and best practice methods for increasing transparency in the administration of justice, access to justice and building public trust and confidence.
  • Enhancing judicial capacity in mediation in family law disputes—the cooperation assisted with improving court services and proceedings through mediation of family law disputes. The Court, along with representatives from Relationships Australia Victoria, developed and implemented training for Religious Court judges in order to promote a mediation process that is effective, efficient, sensitive to court user needs (especially women, children and people with disabilities) and encourages timely decision making in relation to family law cases, child custody and division of assets.

Zimbabwe

In 2011, the Family Court of Australia organised and hosted a two week capacity building programme for a delegation of family law stakeholders from Zimbabwe.

The program aimed to strengthen the ability of key family law stakeholders in Zimbabwe to support a new family court, due to be introduced after the passage of legislation in 2013. The visit also allowed delegates to develop approaches for overcoming identified access to justice barriers in Zimbabwe.

The program included dialogue with the Family Court, the Federal Magistrates, Victoria Children’s Court, Magistrates Court of Victoria, Legal Aid Victoria and Relationships Australia Victoria.

The Zimbabwe delegation included Justice Antonia Guvava, High Court Zimbabwe; Minister Majome, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development; Minister Gutu, Deputy Minister for Justice and Legal Affairs Acting; Chief Magistrate Guvamombe, Chief Magistrate Zimbabwe; Professor Stewart, University of Zimbabwe; Rebecca Magorokosho-Musimwa, Programmes Officer: Research, Legal Education, Lobby and Advocacy for the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association: Northern Region; and Laurine Mawarire, Sure Sona.law officer in the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs

International visitors

In addition to the above delegation from Zimbabwe, which builds on work the Court had been assisting with in that country, during 2011–12 the Court’s work continued to be recognised internationally. Official visitors also attended from Malaysia, Bhutan, Singapore, Japan, Ireland and Germany to look at different aspects of the Court’s work.

Part 2 – Federal Magistrates Court of Australia

The Federal Magistrates Court of Australia was established by the Federal Magistrates Act 1999 as an independent federal court under Chapter III of the Australian Constitution. The Court was established to handle less complex matters in the areas of family law and general federal law. The Court is a federal court of record and a court of law and equity. It is based in the same premises as the other federal courts with primary locations in Melbourne, Dandenong, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Darwin, Launceston, Hobart, Newcastle, Parramatta, Perth and Townsville. In addition, the Court conducts regular circuits (sittings) in other regional and metropolitan locations.

Organisational chart as at 30 June 2012

Organisational chart as at 30 June 2012

Senior executives

Chief Executive Officer

Richard Foster PSM FAIM (Acting)

Richard Foster 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.

Deputy Chief Executive Officer

Steven Agnew (Acting)

The Deputy Chief Executive Officer is responsible for the delivery of court services and administrative functions. This includes the network of regional offices, dispute resolution services and strategic policy.

Principal Registrar

Adele Byrne PSM

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.

Chief Finance Officer

Grahame Harriott (Acting)

The Acting Chief Financial Officer provides strategic leadership and management of the Court’s human resources, property and contracts, finance, management accounting and procurement and risk management.

Staffing profile

At 30 June 2012, the Court had a total workforce of 165 employees covered by the Enterprise Agreement and AWAs (excluding judicial officers, the acting Chief Executive Officer and casual employees). This was a 2.9 per cent decrease compared with 170 employees at 30 June 2011.

Of the Court’s 165 employees:

  • 144 (87.3 per cent) were female and 21 (12.7 per cent) were male compared with 84.1 per cent and 15.9 per cent respectively at 30 June 2011, and
  • 123 (74.5 per cent) were ongoing employees and 42 (25.5 per cent) were non-ongoing employees compared with 74.7 per cent and 25.3 per cent respectively at 30 June 2011.

The following tables show staff statistics by location, gender, full-time and part-time status and ongoing and non-ongoing.

Staff by location
Level ACT NSW NT QLD SA TAS VIC WA Total
APS 3   1         6   7
APS 4 2 26 2 14 8 2 20 1 75
APS 5 2 23 1 12 7 2 18 1 66
APS 6   2         1   3
EL 1   5 1 2 1 1 1   11
EL 2   1         1   2
SES 1             1   1
Total 4 58 4 28 16 5 48 2 165

Federal magistrates

At 30 June 2012, the Court had 63 federal magistrates, including the Chief Federal Magistrate (21 female and 42 male).

Number of federal magistrates, at 30 June 2012
Location Federal magistrates
Australian Capital Territory 2
New South Wales 1 Chief Federal Magistrate
23 federal magistrates
Northern Territory 1
Queensland 12
South Australia 6
Tasmania 2
Victoria 15
Western Australia 1
Total 63

Judicial appointments

There were two appointments and no retirements during the 2011–12 reporting period.

23 January 2012
Federal Magistrate
Matthew Myers

23 January 2012
Federal Magistrate
Ron Curtain

Vale

Federal Magistrate Slack

Federal Magistrate Keith Slack passed 17 December 2011, surrounded by his loving family, after a long and brave struggle with cancer.

Keith was appointed to the Brisbane registry of the Federal Magistrates Court on 12 September 2005, following a career both at the Bar and in private practise spanning more than 25 years. As a practitioner, he volunteered his time to a number of organisations with a strong social focus, such as the Woodridge Youth and Family Service, the Youth Advocacy Centre and Queensland Advocacy Incorporated.

His significant contribution as a federal magistrate, in a busy registry, benefited from his extensive experience as a practitioner. He established the Toowoomba circuit and worked the Lismore circuit.

Keith’s career with the Court was marked by good humour and collegiality. He faced the trials of his illness with great courage, and through this difficult period in his life he maintained the same positive spirit with which he tackled his court duties.

A special valedictory sitting of the Court was held on 26 April 2012 commemorating the life and work of Keith Slack. Federal magistrates and Keith’s family joined members of the profession, friends and colleagues to fill court one in the Brisbane registry. The sitting was a fitting tribute to the impact that Keith made both in relation to his work as a member of the Court and, more generally, family law. He will be greatly missed.

2011–12 statistics at a glance

  • At 30 June 2012, the Federal Magistrates Court had a total workforce of 165 employees covered by the Enterprise Agreement and AWAs (excluding federal magistrates, the acting Chief Executive Officer and casual employees).
  • 144 (87.3 per cent) employees were female and 21 (12.7 per cent) were male compared with 84.1 per cent and 15.9 per cent, respectively at 30 June 2011.
  • 123 (74.5 per cent) employees were ongoing employees and 42 (25.5 per cent) were non-ongoing employees compared with 74.7 per cent and 25.3 per cent, respectively at 30 June 2011.
  • 46,031 divorce applications were filed in 2011–12
  • 25 employees and judicial officers left the Court during 2011–12. Of these, 12 were ongoing employees representing an annual turnover rate of 5.26 per cent. This compares with ongoing staff separations of 10.34 per cent in 2010–11 and 15 per cent in 2009–10.
  • There was a significant increase in migration applications during 2011–12, with 1464 applications filed. This included 419 offshore entry applicants.
  • The Court experienced growth in the number of media reports that specifically mentioned the Court, from approximately 435 reports in 2010–11 to 460 reports in 2011–12.
  • A total of 2277 judgments of the Court were available in a written format. Of these, 1292 judgments related to family law and child support and 985 related to general federal law.

The Court’s workload

Family law

The family law workload of the Court in 2011–12 represented 93 per cent of all applications filed with the Court, remaining at the same levels as in 2010–11. The Court currently deals with 85 per cent of all federal family law matters filed (excluding Western Australian family law matters). This compares to 86 per cent in 2010–11 and 82 per cent in 2009–10.

During the year, the Government announced that the proposed merger of the Federal Magistrates Court and Family Court would not proceed. The Attorney-General has indicated that she will be considering, in consultation with the courts, more clearly defined and articulated roles in relation to the apportionment of shared work and jurisdiction. The family law jurisdiction of the Federal Magistrates Court is almost as extensive as the Family Court.

The family law workload (excluding divorce) can be broken into four categories. During 2011–12, 54 per cent of family law applications related specifically to matters concerning children; a further 11 per cent involved both children and property and 35 per cent involved discrete property applications.

A discrete aspect of property applications is the de facto property jurisdiction which has continued to increase, with 1042 applications having been filed in the Court during the reporting year compared with 810 during 2010–11.

Family law applications filed by type, 2011–12
Application Filed %
Final Orders applications 17,415 21
Interim applications 20,332 23
Divorce applications 46,031 54
Other applications 1771 2
Total 85,549 100

General federal law

Filings in general federal law continue to represent seven per cent of all filings in the Court.

A total of 6693 matters were filed in the Court’s general federal law jurisdiction in 2011–12, with 6787 matters finalised within the reporting period. Of the finalised matters, 5301 (78 per cent) were completed within six months. A total of 6388 matters, (94 per cent) were completed within 12 months.

General federal law applications filed by type, 2011–12
Application Filed %
Bankruptcy 4590 65.64
Migration 1464 20.94
Administrative law 15 0.21
Admiralty law 7 0.10
Consumer law 56 0.80
Intellectual property 44 0.63
Human rights 81 1.16
Industrial 736 10.52
Total 6993 100

Circuit program

The Court is committed to providing access to justice for every Australian regardless of geographic location and aims to do so in a timely and efficient manner. To this end, the Court conducts an extensive circuit program with visits to rural and regional locations across Australia. In 2011–12 the Court allocated approximately 145 weeks to the circuit program, enabling parties to have their matters heard locally alleviating the need to travel to major centres. The Federal Magistrates Court is the only federal court in Australia with a program of regular circuits.

In a speech to the Federal Magistrates Plenary in Brisbane on 26 April 2012 the Attorney-General the Honourable Nicola Roxon noted:

"I see the Federal Magistrates Court as meeting a clear need in the community, and particularly for people living in regional areas. Your regular circuit work puts you at the front line – and often at the end of a very long docket – of difficult matters exacerbated by remoteness and lack of services. This regional access is of growing importance."

The Court recognises the need to ensure that circuit programs are run efficiently and within budgetary constraints. As a result, federal magistrates conduct some procedural and urgent hearings by video link and telelink in between visits to the rural or regional location. The use of this technology increases the efficiency of circuits ensuring that time spent at the various locations is fully utilised. The Court is continually considering how best to deliver services to rural and regional Australia.

Judgment publication

During 2011–12, a total of 2277 judgments of the Court were settled into a written format. This compares with 2313 during the previous year. While a significant number of the Court’s decisions are delivered orally at the conclusion of a hearing or soon after, not all oral decisions are then settled in writing in view of the additional time that is required for this task. In addition, the need to anonymise family law decisions imposes an additional resource impost. However the Court is conscious of the important public interest in disseminating its decisions widely and in addition to ensuring most written decisions are available from the Australian Legal Information Institute’s (AustLii) website, it also distributes to a wide range of external stakeholders. Members of the public can subscribe via the Court’s website and receive regular updates of decisions when posted on www.fmc.gov.au. During the year 143 judgments of the Court were published in law reports.

Family law judgments available in written format, 2011–12
Jurisdiction Number of judgments
Child support 70
Family law 1228
Total in family law 1292

 

General federal law judgments available in written format, 2011–12
Jurisdiction Number of judgments
Administrative law 11
Bankruptcy law 161
Consumer law (formerly trade practices) 15
Human rights 14
Industrial law 124
Migration 660
Total in general federal law 985

Financial management

Total revenue for the Court in 2011–12 was $100.567 million, including appropriations from government ($53.481 million), other revenue ($0.135 million) other gains ($46.951 million). Other gains included notional revenue for resources provided free-of-charge from the Family Court and Federal Court, and liabilities assumed by related entities for the Federal Magistrates Pension Scheme (Invalidity).

Operating expenses for the 2011–12 financial year amounted to $104.156 million, being a $7.756 million increase from 2010–11. The movement in nominal dollars is primarily a result of a $5.496 million increase in resources provided free-of-charge from the Family Court (from $31.672 million in 2010–11 to $37.168 million in 2011–12), and an increase in employee benefits of $2.589 million (rising from $35.068 million in 2010–11 to $37.657 million in 2011–12).

For 2011–12 the Court has recorded an operating deficit1 attributable to the Court of $3.591 million, compared with an operating deficit of $3.960 million reported in 2010–11.

Contributing to the operating deficit is $1.589 million in depreciation expenses (compared with $1.464 million in 2010–11), $0.593 million as a result of changes to the government bond rate, and $0.132 million in losses from the sale of assets.

The remaining $1.277 million component is the result of ongoing pressure on the Court’s operating budget, noting that the Court has over recent years undertaken significant initiatives to reduce costs and generate efficiencies.

The Government is working with the Court to address these ongoing pressures. In addition the Court is identifying new and innovative ways to provide better access to justice for family law litigants, in the context of limited court resources and potential better outcomes for litigants.

Projects and news

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 2011 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 the senior management team.

Internal audits conducted during the year included:

  • asset management
  • collection of fees, and
  • project management.

The Court’s Audit and Risk Committee monitored the implementation of individual audit report recommendations generated as part of the above mentioned audits, through quarterly status reports.

Complaints

During 2011–12 the Court received 157 complaints, slightly higher than the number of complaints received during the previous year. Complaints are categorised as follows:

Conduct – Federal Magistrate or Registrar 42
Dispute resolution 32
Judicial decision 10
Conduct – chambers 4
Registry – family 4
Proceedings – pending 2
Divorce 2
Enforcement of court orders 1
Legal process 1
Perjury 1
Conciliation conference 1
Delays – existing proceedings 3
Overdue judgments 54

While the number of overall complaints is small, it is of concern that the largest category of complaints continues to be in respect of reserved decisions, that is, those decisions outside the three month benchmark that the Court has set for delivery. The Chief Federal Magistrate is seeking to actively monitor delays in delivery of reserved decisions and ensure that sufficient days out of court are assigned to enable federal magistrates to meet the three month benchmark set.

Dandenong project

In early 2010, the Federal Magistrates Court implemented the Dandenong Project at the Dandenong Family Law Courts registry. The aim of the Project was to test a new approach to listing and case management that could contribute to ensuring each court event was constructive while advancing the matter towards resolution.

The Project’s implementation was underpinned by ceasing to operate Dandenong as a circuit location and introducing a docket for Dandenong based federal magistrates. Federal magistrates used a triage system of assessment and sought to utilise a wide range of innovative dispute resolution services to encourage the early resolution of matters.

A review commissioned to evaluate and document the Dandenong Project was conducted with funding from the Attorney-General’s Department. In recognition of the multiple objectives of the Project, information was gathered through a range of collection methods and sources. Data sources were selected for their reliability, availability and appropriateness.

The findings of the Project suggest that overall, the changes made to case management processes and techniques had a positive impact, with more cases settling earlier without judicial determination and with less court events. This reduced the burden of litigation on parties by reducing legal fees and the time required to resolve a case.

The Project has resulted in an increase in the number of cases that settle with a significant increase in the number of cases that settle early. Forty per cent of all cases in Dandenong settled in two or less court events, the highest early settlement rate across the Federal Magistrates Court.

The triaging of matters and early access to family consultants for child inclusive and child dispute conferences, known as section 11F interventions (s11F) assisted in increasing settlement rates and facilitating the early resolution of matters. Section 11F of the Family Law Act 1975 allows the Court to order parties to attend appointments with a family consultant.

The effectiveness of s11F and conciliation conferences in resolving matters is enhanced by (a) not setting a trial date, a practice which focuses parties away from the trial and toward resolution events and (b) conducting those events on a sitting day where lawyers, parties, federal magistrates, family consultants/registrars are all present and focused on finding ways to resolve a dispute.

A ‘kiosk’ was established with the assistance of the Collaborative Dispute Resolution Services Group to assist the Court and parties in connecting with community support. It aims to promote awareness that alternatives to litigation remain open once court proceedings have commenced. The kiosk delivers a range of benefits including increased awareness of, and access to, services provided by the community sector as well as improving links between those that work in the family law systems. It provides the opportunity for parties to receive a broader range of support and services that cannot be offered by the Court alone.

Overall, Dandenong’s performance against standard court performance metrics improved under the Project and Dandenong performed above national averages in many areas. However measures regarding judicial workload raised questions regarding the sustainability of the project.

The full review is located on the Federal Magistrates Court website at www.fmc.gov.au.

FM Baumann recognised in Australia Day awards

The achievements and dedication to duty of many public servants was recognised by the Queen in the 2012 Australia Day honours list. Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, announced this year’s recipients on Australia Day.

Federal Magistrate Michael Baumann was awarded a Member in the Order of Australia for service to the community of Queensland as a magistrate and through contributions to court procedures and practices, to the legal aid sector, and to sporting organisations.

Federal Magistrate Baumann was appointed to the Brisbane registry on 19 June 2000 and is a valued and highly respected member of the legal community. We congratulate him for being recognised for his outstanding contributions to the Court and the wider community.

The Order of Australia Award begun in 1975 and is awarded for the purpose of recognising Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or meritorious service.

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.

Susan Haysom – Brisbane registry

Susan is recognised for her exemplary qualities and her dedication to the work and the ideals of the Court. She is reliable, discreet and willing to take on any task. Susan has been with the Court for eight years. Most of that time has been in the role of Associate to Federal Magistrate Jarrett, and more recently as the Judicial Services Team Leader.

While in the role of Associate, Susan undertook the additional circuit commitments of the chambers with good humour and often worked long hours.

A highly respected member of the team, she often freely and enthusiastically provided advice and assistance to other Associates and Deputy Associates. Susan’s willingness to accept a challenge is exemplified by the fact that she acted in the role of Judicial Support Team Leader for some time and has now taken on the role of acting Registry and Judicial Services Manager.

Emma Crutchfield – Brisbane registry

Emma is recognised for her exemplary qualities and her dedication to the Court.

Emma has been with the Court for almost eight years as Associate to Federal Magistrate Jarrett and Federal Magistrate Demack. Emma has since commenced acting in the position of Team Leader Judicial Services Brisbane.

Emma is generous with her knowledge and has taken on the role of trainer and mentor which has seen new members of the team transition smoothly and effectively into the work of the Court. She was responsible for overseeing the development of procedural guides which are now used nationally and are of enormous benefit for those new to the systems of the Court.

Website

The Court’s website (www.fmc.gov.au) contains information about circuits, acts, rules and regulations, judgments, brochures, fact sheets and general information leaflets.

Below are the statistics for the number of visitors using the Federal Magistrates Court website during 2011–12.

Federal Magistrates Court of Australia website statistics, July 2011—June 2012
Month Visitors
July 2011 96,766
August 2011 104,121
September 2011 101,819
October 2011 97,732
November 2011 103,047
December 2011 99,519
January 2012 101,179
February 2012 101,863
March 2012 99,519
April 2012 100,831
May 2012 113,603
June 2012 88,498

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 2011–12, 25 Senate estimate questions on notice were received and answered.

FMC wins silver in annual report awards

The Federal Magistrates Court 2010–11 Annual Report (hard copy) was awarded a prestigious ‘silver’ in the Institute of Public Administration’s ACT Annual Report Awards. Each report is scrutinised and judged on stringent criteria for hard copy and online versions. The awards are designed to honour the achievements of public sector work groups, units and teams that produce and table annual reports. The awards test accountability, transparency and quality. Through its annual reports and other means, the courts will continue to strive for excellence and good governance in public sector administration.

Vietnamese/Australian legal ties continue to strengthen

The Federal Magistrates Court remains actively involved with the Vietnamese legal system. In September 2011 the Chief Federal Magistrate and other members of the Court attended a family law conference in Hanoi, Vietnam; and in October, a delegation led by the Chief Justice of Vietnam visited the Court in Sydney.

The Chief Justice of Vietnam was joined by several senior court administrators in his visit to Australia, which was coordinated by the Federal Court of Australia. Federal Magistrate Emmett hosted the delegation on behalf of Chief Federal Magistrate Pascoe. Federal Magistrate Emmet was joined by Federal Magistrate Kemp and Acting Deputy CEO Steve Agnew. In addition to learning about our family and general federal law jurisdictions, the guests heard first hand about the challenges of managing the Court’s operations.

One of the highlights of the visit was the invitation extended by Federal Magistrate Altobelli for the Chief Justice of Vietnam to join him on the bench. The visitors were also introduced to registry operations by Wendy Bartlett and were given a preview of the new courtrooms under construction on level three of the Lionel Bowen Building in Sydney. The Vietnamese delegation also met with other jurisdictions in Sydney, and with the Family Court in Melbourne.

Chief Federal Magistrate Pascoe delivered the opening address at the first Vietnam Family Law Conference in Hanoi. Federal Magistrates Sexton and Lapthorn also contributed as guest speaker and panel chair respectively. In his opening address, Chief Federal Magistrate Pascoe said that ‘the ties between Vietnam and Australia are growing stronger, making events like this conference both possible and desirable.’

He also outlined some of the demographic and cultural changes that have taken place in Australia during the past four decades, and noted the impacts that these changes have had on the practice of family law.

‘Issues of language, heritage and values are daily fare in the Court,’ he said. ‘In short, our work represents the dynamic and multi-cultural society which is Australia today.’

Changes to the Court’s jurisdiction in 2011–12

The Attorney-General announced on 26 April 2012 that the Government would not proceed with the proposed merger of the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court. In addition it was announced that the name of the Federal Magistrates Court and title of federal magistrates will change to better reflect their important role in the judicial system. Consultation is now underway as to an appropriate name before legislation is introduced to implement this change.

As part of this announcement, the Attorney-General indicated that in the context of the family law jurisdiction, consideration would be given to developing a clearer and better understood apportionment of work and jurisdiction between the courts.

The following Acts have received assent during the year and impact on the general federal law jurisdiction of the Court:

Work Health and Safety Act 2011 came into force on 1 January 2012. The Act gives the Federal Magistrates Court and the Federal Court a broad jurisdiction in any civil proceedings under the Act concurrent with state/territory courts. The Act makes provision for certain applications to be exercised in the Fair Work Division of the Court.

Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012 will commence 15 April 2013 and includes amendments conferring jurisdiction under the Designs Act 2003 and the Trade Mark Act 1995. The Court will have jurisdiction to hear appeals against decisions, directions and orders of the registrar.

Fair Work Amendment (Textile, Clothing and Footwear Industry) Act 2012 commenced 1 July 2012. The Act amends the Fair Work Act 2009 (FWA) to extend the operation of most provisions of the FWA to contract outworkers in the textile clothing and footwear industry and provide a mechanism for such outworkers to recover unpaid amounts up the supply chain.

Road Safety Remuneration Act 2012 (and consequential Act) commenced 1 July 2012. The Act will establish a new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal which will be empowered to inquire into sectors, issues and practices within the road transport industry and, where appropriate, determine mandatory minimum rates of pay and related conditions for employed and self-employed drivers. The Bill also establishes a compliance regime and confers compliance powers on the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO). This jurisdiction will be analogous to the jurisdiction conferred on the courts by the FWA and the Independent Contractors Act 2006.

Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Amendment Act 2012 commences on 20 September 2012. The Act amends the Extradition Act and the Mutual Assistance Act, to confer personal powers on a federal magistrate who has provided consent, to exercise powers under these Acts.

As one part of a package of legislation in relation to the shipping industry, the Parliament passed the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Act 2012 which provides for the regulatory framework for a vessel’s access to coastal trading in Australian waters. The Act provides for civil penalty provisions and confers jurisdiction from 1 July 2012 on the Federal Magistrates Court and the Federal Court.

Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 commenced on 29 January 2012 and conferred certain civil penalty powers of the Court.

Amendments to the Federal Magistrates Court Rules 2001

Federal Magistrates Court Amendment Rules 2012 (No 1)

These rules included the following amendments to the Federal Magistrates Court Rules 2001:

  • consequential amendments as a result of the implementation of the Federal Court Rules 2011
  • consequential amendments to facilitate the ‘family violence’ amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 as implemented by the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2011
  • amendments to the address for service rules to facilitate the authorisation of ordinary service by email, and
  • amendments to Schedule 1 – costs – to increase the amounts fixed consistent with recommendations of the Joint Costs Advisory Committee and to introduce a new Part 2 of Schedule 1 being costs certain child support proceedings.

Most of these amendments commenced on 25 May 2012, save for the amendments made as a consequence of the family violence amendments of the Family Law Act, which commenced on 7 June 2012.

Amendments to the Federal Magistrates Court (Bankruptcy) Rules

2006 Federal Magistrates Court (Bankruptcy) Amendment Rules 2011 (No 1)

These Rules commenced on 1 January 2012 as a consequence of:

  • amendments to the Bankruptcy Act 1966 (Bankruptcy Act) and Bankruptcy Regulations 1996 (Bankruptcy Regulations) made in 2010 by the Bankruptcy Legislation Amendment Act 2010 by the Bankruptcy Legislation Amendment Act 2010 and Bankruptcy Amendment Regulations 2010 (No. 1), and
  • amendments to the Federal Court Rules 2011 on 1 August 2011.

Practice Directions/Information Notices

The following practice/information notices were published during the year:

  • Consent Orders in Proceedings Involving a Federal Tribunal – Practice Direction No 1 of 2012
  • Electronic Engrossment of Orders – Family Law Matters – Victorian and Tasmanian Registries and Circuits, and
  • Relocation List – Melbourne Registry.

A full list of all practice and information notices is available from the Court’s website at: www.fmc.gov.au

Amendments to the Federal Magistrates Regulations 2000

Federal Magistrates Amendment Regulation 2012 (No 1)

The Regulation took effect on 12 May 2012. The amendment was in response to the decision in Beasley v The Australian National University [2011] FMCA 792 where the Court found that, due to the operation of section 14 of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003 (LIA) the Rules did not incorporate the rules of the Federal Court as in force from time to time but in the form they stood at the time they were adopted for application in the Court. The amendment was to modify the provisions of the LIA in their application to the Court, to allow any rules of the Court to apply, adopt or incorporate, with or without modification, any rules of other courts, as in force from time to time.

Biennial increase from 1 July 2012

Pursuant to the Federal Magistrates Regulations 2000, the fees payable are subject to an automatic biennial increase from 1 July 2012 to reflect changes to the consumer price index.

Fair Work Amendment Regulations 2011 (No 4)

The Regulations enable an official of an industrial association to represent a party in a small claims proceeding in circumstances where the party is granted leave by the Federal Magistrates Court or a state magistrates court. The Regulations were developed in response to a decision of the Court in Corcoran & Ors v Bansley Pty Ltd [2011] FMCA 440 not to allow the applicants in the matter to be represented by an industrial association. The case identified that while subsection 548(8) of the Act provides that an officer of an industrial association may represent a party in a small claims proceeding in circumstances specified in the Principal Regulations, no such regulations had been made under this provision.

Accommodation for Sydney-based federal magistrates

The Court has eight federal magistrates conducting general federal law in Sydney. The Court subleased three floors at John Maddison Towers (JMT) from the NSW Department of Attorney General and Justice (NSW AGD). In 2011 the Court was required to hand back two of the floors at JMT which meant that only five of the federal magistrates could remain on the one available floor. The Court entered into a one year rolling lease with the NSW AGD, requiring each party to give one year’s notice to vacate. The sublease has guaranteed tenure until 31 October 2013.

The three remaining federal magistrates were co-located with Fair Work Australia at 80 William Street under an MOU for two years from November 2011 to November 2013. This arrangement was made after the Court undertook an extensive search of accommodation options in Sydney including the submission of a New Policy Proposal (NPP) to the Attorney General’s Department in September 2010. The NPP was subsequently withdrawn as there was no capacity for either the courts or the AGD to fully offset the cost of this NPP as required under the Budget Operational Rules.

The co-location at 80 William Street has worked well for both Fair Work Australia and the Court and as a result, further discussions were held in May 2012 to assess the potential to accommodate all eight Sydney-based federal magistrates. As Fair Work Australia is in the process of rationalising their accommodation holdings at 80 William Street, a proposition was made by Fair Work Australia to fund the fitout of two floors at 80 William Street that meet the needs of the Court. This would mean that eight chambers and six courtrooms would be available for the Court and that Fair Work Australia would amortise the cost of the fitout into the rent over a 10 year sub-lease arrangement.

There are many benefits for the Court in this approach, notably it will provide long term accommodation for the eight federal magistrates for at least 10 years. The issue of funding the fitout (noting the Court has insufficient capital budget in its own right) will be resolved and the accommodation meets the security needs of the federal magistrates, providing a separate judicial lift, which is uncommon in a commercial building.

The administration is continuing to work with Fair Work Australia to progress this arrangement.

Part 3 – Family Law Courts

The Family Law Courts comprise the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia. Both courts have jurisdiction in family law matters in all states and territories except Western Australia, which has its own Family Court.

The courts are independent, but cooperate to provide streamlined access to the federal family law system. Clients benefit from:

  • a simplified path through the family law system
  • access to services for the resolution of family disputes
  • a single point of filing regardless of which courts handles the application
  • a national enquiry centre and website that provide information about both courts, and
  • easy transfer of cases between courts when ordered by a court.

National projects and news

Budget supplementation

The courts’ financial environment has been challenging for some time. As such, we provided a submission to the Government detailing the impacts of the current and future financial pressures on court staff and our clients.

In September, the Attorney-General announced the courts were to receive budget supplementation of $24.1m over the next four years. This budget supplementation:

  • requires a series of savings strategies to be progressed to achieve a balanced budget in 2012–13 and 2013–14, without the need for drastic job losses
  • will enable the courts to maintain their presence in rural and regional Australia, and
  • will enable the appointment of judicial officers to the current vacancies in both courts.

The Attorney-General also announced the provision of an additional $3.1m (over four years) to administer a series of new fees to commence from 1 January 2013. This additional funding is recognition of the cost associated with this part of the courts business, which had not previously been recognised.

The table below provides a breakdown of the budget supplementation:

  2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 Total
  $’000 $’000 $’000 $’000 $’000
FCoA          
Additional funding 2,768 6,566 6,096 6,218 21,648
Administration of new fees 1,208 640 645 651 3,144
Total additional funding – FCoA 3,976 7,206 6,741 6,869 24,792
FMC          
Additional funding 1,254 1,781 714 728 4,477
Total additional funding – FMC 1,254 1,781 714 728 4,477
Total FCoA and FMC funding 5,230 8,987 7,455 7,597 29,269

While the budget supplementation will provide initial relief, in particular over the next two years, it also provides an opportunity to consider alternative measures to ensure a sustainable funding basis into the future.

Federal courts restructure

The Report of the Strategic Review of Small and Medium Agencies in the Attorney-General’s portfolio (the Skehill Review) was released by the Attorney-General on 8 June 2012. The report recommended a range of practical measures to improve the operation and reduce duplication between federal courts.

The key focus of the work on the federal courts was the efficiency and effectiveness of courts’ administration. The Government has agreed to the key recommendation to improve court administration and collaboration, and identify efficiencies, through a new consultative committee comprising heads of jurisdiction, heads of administration and other relevant officers, including an observer from the Attorney-General’s Department. Similarly, the courts and the Government will work more closely on strategic planning for use of court buildings.

In considering the efficiency and effectiveness of court administration, the Skehill Review found the recent move to shared administration for the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court has been a genuine success. This finding was crucial to the Skehill Review’s recommendation that the family law restructure should not proceed. Instead, the Review recommended, and the Government agreed, that the shared administration arrangement be formalised, together with a formal process to encourage closer cooperation between the federal courts. This will promote clarity, including for the ongoing role of the Federal Magistrates Court, and provide certainty for the future.

The Government will also change the name of the Federal Magistrates Court and title of Federal Magistrates to better reflect their important role in the judicial system. The Government will begin by consulting with the courts as to what the name of court and the title of Federal Magistrates should be before bringing forward legislation to make the changes.

The Skehill Review recommended a further review be undertaken of the courts’ financial positions. While the Government considers that the issue requires further attention, another formal review is not necessary. At 30 June 2012, the Government had commenced working closely with the courts to consider options to address any financial pressures and maintain services. The Government also did not agree with the Skehill Review’s recommendation that some aspects of court expenditure should be exempt from the efficiency dividend. The efficiency dividend is applied across all departmental expenditure.

The Skehill Review is available at www.finance.gov.au

Commonwealth Courts Portal

The Commonwealth Courts Portal (www.comcourts.gov.au) was launched in July 2007 as a joint 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 as well as the Family Court of Western Australia.

After registering, lawyers and parties 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.

he growth of the portal has been rapid over the five years since its introduction. The number of registered users has grown from 57,602 at 30 June 2011 to 85,332 at 30 June 2012. Included at 30 June 2012 were 3280 registered law firms and 6746 individual lawyers and barristers. The table below provides more detail about the number of portal users, with comparative data for the past four years.

Registered users of the Commonwealth Courts Portal, 2008–09 to 2011–12
  30 June 2009 30 June 2010 30 June 2011 30 June 2012
Number of law firms registered 667 1279 2466 3280
Number of lawyers registered 1761 2827 5026 6746
Total registered users 5900 24,073 57,602 85,332

During 2011–12, the popularity of eFiling continued to increase. By 30 June 2012, more than 750 eFiled divorce applications were being received each month with 7952 in total for the year and 1541 other forms of applications were also eFiled. The number of applications made by eFiling is expected to continue to grow in 2012–13.

In addition, 96,228 supplementary documents (such as affidavits) were eFiled. The content of each of these documents is now available for viewing online by the parties, saving a visit in person to a court registry to view the paper copy.

Improvements made to the portal during 2011–12 included:

  • a subpoena screen which allows parties to check if their request to inspect a document has been approved
  • a screen showing a complete list of all documents filed in a matter which has filters to enable searches to be conducted on:
    • date filed on
    • date filed to
    • type of document, and
    • name of filing party
  • a ‘recent activity on starred files’ section which highlights changes such as a document being filed, an order being made, or an event being listed
  • tabs on the homepage were reduced to improve the look and usability of the page and a new series of themed icons provides a fresh look for the homepage
  • a new alpha/numeric search feature allows users to search for party names or file numbers within their ‘available files’ collection
  • increased performance through the introduction of a new server and further code tuning, and
  • a global list of documents which creates a single list of all documents on a file in reverse chronological order.

The table on the following page shows the number of supplementary documents eFiled in the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court for the past four years by location.

Documents eFiled in the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court, 2008–09 to 2011–12
  2008–09 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12
Adelaide 191 1679 2353 4912
Albury 3 18 166 501
Alice Springs - 1 19 109
Brisbane 943 9077 18,936 27,379
Cairns 10 64 209 1076
Canberra 5 643 1321 2004
Coffs Harbour 26 114 286 863
Dandenong 66 832 2217 5331
Darwin 13 129 212 359
Dubbo - 9 125 363
Hobart 27 85 210 562
Launceston 15 311 575 734
Lismore 57 174 418 1109
Melbourne 425 4904 10,983 19,329
Newcastle 52 1046 2822 4724
Parramatta 187 2029 5016 7736
Rockhampton 33 374 444 746
Sydney 125 2870 6207 10,466
Townsville 35 634 1568 2115
Wollongong 10 102 430 1444
TOTAL 2223 25,095 54,517 91,862

In Western Australia there were 827 divorces and 3228 supplementary documents eFiled during 2011–12.

Planned enhancements for 2012–13

Enhancements expected to be introduced or advanced in 2012–13 include:

  • the capability for users to create a global list of all orders on a file
  • the completion of work to ensure Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are complied in accordance with government mandated time lines
  • introducing court lists in the portal
  • commencing a refresh of the portal look and feel, and
  • investigating the possibility of introducing electronic service via the portal.

User satisfaction survey

The Family Law Courts, with the help of 102 university students and volunteers, conducted over 1300 user satisfaction surveys at 13 court locations during June and July 2011.

The aim was to gauge the level of satisfaction that litigants, lawyers and even people making an enquiry had regarding their interaction with the courts on family law matters. It did not look at decisions or rulings made by the courts, rather the experiences of and services received by individuals while dealing with the courts.

It was found that almost 92 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the services provided to them and more than 85 per cent were generally satisfied with their overall visit to the courts. The survey also found strong, positive responses regarding facilities, safety and the service that they received, with respondents describing staff as ‘friendly’, ‘helpful’ and ‘cheerful’.

Areas for improvement included the need for greater clarity on the next steps for litigants, and general timing issues. Respondents also commented about more court staff being needed to speed up document filing at counters.

It is intended the survey will be held regularly, at least once every two years, to help the courts refine their services and ensure that users needs are met to the best of the courts’ abilities. The final report is on the Family Law Courts website.

Revised Family Violence Best Practice Principles launched

In July 2011, the (then) Attorney-General Robert McClelland, Chief Justice Bryant and Chief Federal Magistrate Pascoe launched the revised Family Violence Best Practice Principles.

The principles were first developed in 2009 by the Family Court’s Family Violence Committee and were reviewed and updated by a joint Family Court-Federal Magistrates Court committee to ensure they optimally assisted their intended audiences.

Protecting families and children who are engaged with the family law system from the effects of family violence is a priority for both courts. The principles assist by acting as a checklist of matters that judges, federal magistrates, court staff, litigants and legal professionals can refer to at each stage of the litigation process.

The Committee considered delaying the release of the updated best practice principles until the commencement of the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2011, however due to uncertainty last year on when commencement would be, it was decided to release the principles with the understanding that further revision would be required when the family violence amendments passed into law.

Family Violence Amendments

The Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2011 commenced on 7 June 2012. This act amends the Family Law Act 1975 to better deal with the issue of family violence and abuse of children while providing increased levels of protection to the victims.

The revised Act includes key changes such as:

  • Changing the definition of ‘abuse’ and ‘family violence’
  • enabling state and territory child protection authorities to participate in family law proceedings when needed
  • improving reporting requirements of abuse and family violence.

The following forms and publications were been updated as a result of these changes:

  • Application for Divorce (Kit)
  • Divorce Service (Kit)
  • Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence, or Risk of Family Violence (Form 4)
  • Application – draft consent parenting orders and allegation of abuse of family violence
  • Initiating application
  • Response to initiating application

The review of the Court’s family violence strategy was not completed during 2011–12 due to the incoming legislative amendments. Work, however, was underway at year’s end on a review of the family violence policy to ensure it aligns with the amended legislation.

Protocol on a child’s need for protection

In July 2011, a joint protocol about a child’s need for protection and to ensure the best possible outcomes for a child was developed between the Department of Human Services’ Child Protection Program, the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court.

The protocol is designed to assist cooperation, clarify procedures and improve decision making in cases that may occur in either or both the Commonwealth and state jurisdictions. It articulates the statutory and non-statutory responsibilities of the Department and the two courts to each other. While the protocol aids effective communication between the three organisations, it does not replace the requirement for open and collaborative relationships between each at the operational level. The Department and the courts are committed to providing the highest level of service. Working together will ensure professional, sensitive and well-targeted responses to children and young people who are at significant risk of harm. A copy of the protocol can be found on the Family Law Courts website.

Sydney family law settlement service

In late May 2012, the Sydney family law settlement service started and is to continue until October 2012, after which it will be evaluated. It is a joint initiative of the Law Society of New South Wales, the New South Wales Bar Association, the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court.

The service aims to settle early as many family law property matters as is possible without a court hearing (trial), thus avoiding the cost and time of a fully defended hearing and reducing the number of cases awaiting final hearing in the courts.

A total of 125 Sydney and Wollongong property matters were identified as suitable for mediation through the service, being matters for which a conciliation conference had been held but excluding cases, for example, with allegations of family violence. Parties will be invited to voluntarily agree to attend the service and where consent is not given by both parties, a judicial officer may consider whether any orders should be made that the parties attend the service.

The Law Society is facilitating the coordination and administration of the service. Practitioners who are experienced in mediating in family law matters and are on the Law Society’s and NSW Bar Association’s mediation panels will be engaged to participate.

An evaluation, planned for November and December 2012, will determine if the service should be continued, including more widely in the courts.

A study of Indigenous Australians access to and usage of the Family Law Courts

A study of Indigenous Australians access to and usage of the Family Law Courts was initiated in 2009–10 and work on it continued in 2011–12. The study aimed to examine the views and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families who have been involved in family law litigation. Data was obtained from 36 Indigenous litigants, 54 non-Indigenous litigants and 30 family law practitioners who had represented Indigenous clients in court. In addition, six focus groups were held in metropolitan and regional areas.

Major findings of the evaluation include:

  • From 2007–08 there has been a shift in filing trends in Indigenous matters, including a decline in the number of Indigenous applicants, an increase in Indigenous people as respondents, and an increase in matters where both parties are Indigenous.
  • Indigenous litigants were much less likely to have attended dispute resolution via a Family Relationship Centre than non-Indigenous litigants, and were more likely to have attended a legal aid conference as the first dispute resolution event.
  • Indigenous litigants were twice as likely to cite non-attendance at dispute resolution by the other party as the reason for failure to resolve the dispute.
  • Indigenous litigants rated family violence as the most important issue for them and/or the other party when ranking all of the issues involved in going to court. For the non-Indigenous group, relocation was rated as the most important issue for them and/or the other party.
  • A large majority in each group found court staff to be somewhat helpful or better in providing information and assistance. A majority in each group also reported that they had been treated with respect and sensitivity by court staff when attending court.
  • There was a higher level of dissatisfaction expressed by the non-Indigenous litigants when compared to the Indigenous litigants, but this needs to be viewed in the context of sampling differences.
  • Indigenous litigants were more balanced in their views of the Court’s handling of their case and in most instances expressed relatively equal levels of satisfaction/dissatisfaction.
  • Fifty-three per cent of Indigenous participants indicated that the Court had not properly considered the cultural needs of Indigenous children.
  • Thirty-three per cent of the group ‘strongly’ disagreed with the statement that the children’s cultural needs had been properly considered by the Court.
  • Less than 30 per cent of the Indigenous group believed that the Court displayed respect and understanding in response to their concerns about culture and its importance for children.
  • Indigenous litigants were critical of the family report writer on all aspects of the family report, but particularly the report writer’s ability to deal with Indigenous cultural issues. Fifty-nine per cent of the Indigenous group did not believe that the report writer had done their best to understand and report upon the cultural issues affecting the children.
  • Practitioners expressed higher levels of satisfaction and confidence with the Court’s handling of the Indigenous cases than that expressed by Indigenous litigants, although they were generally less satisfied with the Court’s handling of Indigenous cultural issues than they were with the overall handling of their client’s case. Only 46 per cent of practitioners reported that the cultural needs of the children had been properly considered by the Court. Practitioners tended to have a negative view of family reports in these cases and were consistently critical of report writers when it came to the assessment of cultural issues.

Issues that the courts are now considering, guided by the Indigenous Working Group, include:

  • accessibility of pre-filing Family Dispute Resolution Services for Indigenous people
  • a need to ensure that reliable and accurate data exists in relation to monitoring of court usage by Indigenous people
  • improving judicial education and awareness of Indigenous cultural issues, and
  • improving the capacity of family report writers to assess Indigenous cultural issues.

The final report is expected to be published later in 2012.

Statement of strategic intent

To assist with strategic planning, the Family Law Court’s administration has developed a statement of strategic intent. The document outlines the challenges, directions and priorities of the courts’ administration for 2012–13 and builds on the work already achieved since the merger of the administrations in 2009. The document is available on the courts’ websites.

2011 AIJA Award for Excellence in Judicial Administration

In October 2011, the Young Employees Advisory Group (YEAG) initiative was awarded the 2011 Australasian Institute for Judicial Administration (AIJA) Award for Excellence.

The courts entered the YEAG initiative in the award because it was a first for Australian courts: it was designed to enable younger employees to bring a different perspective to issues and approaches in court administration. The AIJA Award for Excellence in Judicial Administration has been running since 2002 and is designed to recognise outstanding achievement in the administration of justice within Australia. It is awarded biennially. Nominations for the award must have improved access to justice, demonstrated innovation and delivered real benefits for the justice system.

In initiating YEAG, the Court recognised that in Australia and within the courts generally, there is an ageing workforce, which needs to be addressed. Further, giving younger employees a forum to express their views and, through project work, put ideas into practice, creates a deeper awareness of the courts’ business, administrative and governance arrangements. This assists in the professional development of younger employees.

Also recognised is that access to justice is not just about improving the way the courts deliver their services externally. Internal improvements also have an impact by having the right people to deliver services and having healthy and robust staff better able to meet the needs of clients.

Since its formation in 2008, YEAG has improved the day-to-day internal and external operations of the Family Law Courts in a number of ways, all of which have had a positive affect on improving access to justice. For example, working with the legal profession to increase awareness of the Commonwealth Courts Portal and electronic filing; involvement with a targeted recruitment campaign to attract young people to a career with the courts; conducting research into particular client groups, such as self-represented litigants and Indigenous Australians and internally, introducing health initiatives for staff, and improved internal communications.

Environmental Champions Network

The Environmental Champions Network was formed in 2010 as a result of a project by the 2009–10 Young Employees Advisory Group.

Membership now comprises 19 staff (up from the original five), representing 13 sites nationally. The network is chaired by the environmental manager and meets via teleconference every six to eight weeks.

Representatives discuss local registry issues as well as those that have a national impact. This has included paper use, the cost of photocopying, the impact of eFiling, environmentally friendly products, new printers, signage issues, and the availability of recycling. The representatives also encourage others at their registries to improve environmentally sustainable behaviour such as increasing recycling, shutting down computers, and turning off lights.

Some of the group’s notable projects for 2011–12 included:

  • Earth Hour
  • National Recycling Week
  • Mobile Muster
  • Christmas shutdown drive
  • desktop computer shutdown drive
  • launch of the courts’ environmental logo, and
  • forming an Environmental Champions Network lotus notes community.

There is more information on the courts’ environmental performance on page 73 of this report.

Connecting our staff

Connections is a social networking environment that supports staff to communicate and collaborate in the work environment. Connections was officially launched to staff on 1 May 2012. It allows staff to:

  • Create a profile—upload a photo, record contact information and list past experience, skills, and interests.
  • Create or join a community—share information and interact with other staff with similar roles or projects. Participate in a discussion forums, share bookmarks and feeds with other members.
  • Subscribe to feeds—keep up-to-date with the latest information, and participate in or start a discussion.
  • Write or read a blog—give feedback or share information by writing text, adding a link or uploading an image or video. Blogs are updated daily like an online journal.
  • Write, read or edit a wiki—collaboratively author, view or edit information. A wiki is for multiple users to create and modify the pages.
  • Create an activity—organise a team or an individual’s work, assign ownership and create due dates for actions involving one or more individuals.
  • Share files and content with others—upload presentations, documents, videos or files into a file-sharing library. Keep them private, semi-private, or public and add tags and ratings, add recommendations and see comments.

The use of Connections is governed by a number of existing court-wide policies and staff must ensure their use of it, in terms of access to official and private records and the release of information, also complies with the APS Code of Conduct.

The National Enquiry Centre (NEC) had been trialling the use of a Lotus wiki since 2006 for sharing information related to client enquiries and court procedures, however, concluded that that software did not meet the courts’ needs. From late 2007 to early 2008 a range of other products were evaluated. As a result, the Family Court ICT Collaboration Technical Options Paper was delivered in October 2009 and a decision was made to proceed with Connections.

A staff survey in 2011 found that 75 per cent of respondents had used social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and My Space and almost half had been using these for two to four years. It was then decided to launch Connections to all staff.

A trial of Connections was undertaken in the NEC from March to June 2011. After analysing the trial outcomes (including technical and other issues) it was decided to provide the software to further groups of early adopters including a number of project groups, the Client Services Senior Managers Group and family consultants. By January 2012, more than 50 communities had been established.

While it is early days, at 30 June 2012, it was expected that Connections will provide staff with a tool that will increase their capacity to collaborate, especially with staff in other court locations. This will have a positive effect on staff development, liaison and opportunities for sharing ideas, and will lead to improved service delivery.

PABX networked

The upgrading of the courts’ PABX systems was completed during 2011–12. This has led to all separate PABX systems being networked, so what was previously 20 systems now operates as one, allowing internal phone calls to be carried by the courts’ network. It is expected that this will lead to a significant reduction in the cost of external telephone calls.

Client Service Senior Managers’ Group

The Client Service Senior Managers’ Group (CSSMG) comprises registry managers and registry and judicial service managers from the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court. The group aims to identify and implement ways to continually improve service delivery across the courts by streamlining procedures, ensuring consistency in work practice, providing better information and enhancing client contact with the courts.

The group meets by telelink monthly and uses the Family Law Courts’ Connections technology through a CSSMG community, where members can discuss issues, provide reports, post blogs and upload files for discussion within the group.

CSSMG was involved in several priority projects during 2011–12 including review of:

  • the Q-Matic ticketing system and implementation of a new centrally managed system
  • the intranets and the creation of a client service wiki to ensure staff have access to the most up-to-date procedural information
  • the client service induction process which has resulted in new starters receiving a comprehensive package of information and training. This package complements the overall induction program to the courts, which is available to all staff, and
  • eFiling procedures to ensure that the most efficient use of the technology is being implemented in response to the growth in eFiling. This will be ongoing as the take-up rates continue to increase.

Chief Executive Officer’s Management Advisory Group

In 2011–12, the Chief Executive Officer’s Management Advisory Group continued to provide advice to the CEO on new policy and other initiatives. These included budget savings measures, the application of family violence amendments, social media policy and protocols, the client satisfaction survey, the resource planning model, the statement of strategic intent, the ICT work plan, the child dispute services work plan, the Family Law Courts’ tablet policy and changes to case management practices.

Audit and Risk Committee

The Audit and Risk Committee is established in accordance with section 46 of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. It supports the Chief Executive Officer to ensure that the courts’ financial accounts are in accordance with the Finance Minister’s Orders and provide a true and accurate description of the courts’ financial position. The committee comprises an external chair and two senior managers from the courts’ administration.

During 2011–12, the Audit and Risk Committee considered a range of issues including the courts’ internal audit plan, strategic risk and fraud risk treatments, and oversight of the Australian National Audit Office and internal audit report recommendations.

National Consultative Committee

The National Consultative Committee is a key forum through which the courts consult with staff about broader issues that have a national perspective. Elected staff delegates actively present the views of staff regarding issues that impact nationally on staff and the management and future direction of the courts.

The Committee’s areas of focus include:

  • the objectives of the courts and how these might be achieved
  • financial and human resource planning
  • information technology initiatives
  • security
  • management and review processes, including proposed changes
  • work health and safety matters
  • equal employment opportunity issues
  • accommodation and amenities, and
  • human resource management policies and practices.

Staff Development Committee

In 2011–12, the Staff Development Committee (SDC) continued to meet to discuss the developmental needs across all areas of the courts. The committee is integral to the courts’ approach to the continuing career development of staff. It is a key forum through which staff representatives have shared responsibility for identifying and determining development needs and opportunities.

As a result of the staff development survey conducted by the Young Employees Advisory Group (YEAG) in 2009–10, the SDC provided a snapshot of how the courts have responded by using the results and comments to help inform human resources strategy. This snapshot was promoted through the courts via the Corporate Services newsletter. The earlier survey also prompted a total overhaul of the Performance Management and Development System (PMDS), which went live in 2011–12. The new online PMDS was widely publicised during the year, particularly through staff newsletters. Feedback so far has been supportive of the new structure and Human Resources will monitor the success of the system over time.

After a two-year tenure, the Committee composition changed considerably during 2011–12, with the replacement of five representatives in the areas of Information, Communication and Technology Services, registry management, registrars, family consultants and associates.

The Committee funded the printing of 1000 bookmarks promoting the courts’ service commitments, as part of a training package on disability awareness. It also funded the travel component of this course, which was presented by Human Resources.

Training, learning and development

The courts recognise the value of a well-educated workforce that is able to contribute effectively to meeting its objectives. They provide staff with an extensive range of learning and development opportunities to develop their skills and knowledge for current and future roles and responsibilities. The courts achieve this by supporting employees in meeting their development and career needs consistent with the Performance Management and Development System and available resources. They also provide studies assistance, including leave for study and examination attendance for employees undertaking work-related tertiary studies. Financial constraints mean that the courts rely predominantly on in-house training and, where available, staff attend training courses provided by the Attorney-General’s Department or the Australian Public Service Commission.

Specific training during the year included:

  • a proof-reading and editing course for the Melbourne and Brisbane judicial support staff
  • family violence training for all family consultants
  • a disability awareness course at the Sydney registry
  • training to managers and supervisors on how to conduct a performance discussion, including how to have a difficult conversation. This was necessary to further enable the roll-out of the Court’s updated online Performance Management and Development System (PMDS), and
  • for smaller and more remote locations, training sessions on ethical behaviour, the APS Code of Conduct and APS Values, which major court registries and the National Support Office had received in 2010.

Family law registries

There are 19 family law registries. These are in every state and territory (except Western Australia). Family law registries provide registry services to both the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court and are staffed permanently. The key functions of the registries are to:

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

Counter enquiries

Staff working on the counters in family law registries handle general enquiries, lodge documents relating to proceedings, provide copies of documents and/or orders and facilitate the viewing of court files and subpoenas.

During 2011–12, the family law registries continued to provide a high level of service and met noticeably increased volume of counter enquiries.

It is estimated that the registries dealt with 187,665 counter enquiries in 2011–12 from clients or other people seeking information face-to-face. This compared to 150,156 in 2010–11. In fact, the actual numbers would have exceeded this, as in a number of the smaller registries facilities are not available for counting of enquiries.

In 2011–12, an estimated 90 per cent of clients were served within 20 minutes, against a target of 75 per cent. This is down on the estimated figure for 2010–11.

Document processing

Family law registries receive and process applications lodged at registry counters and in the mail. The service target of 75 per cent being processed within two working days of receipt was significantly exceeded (97.3 per cent of applications were processed within that timeframe, compared to 96.5 per cent in 2010–11).

National Enquiry Centre (NEC)

Telephone and email enquiry and referral services

The NEC provides a wide range of enquiry and support services for clients related to their Family Court or Federal Magistrates Court files. Through the courts’ 1300 telephone number all calls automatically go to the NEC, as do emails using the addressenquiries@familylawcourts.gov.au. The NEC also prints and posts all divorce orders made by the two courts (there were 85,532 in 2011–12).

In addition, it is also the first point of contact for:

  • the Family Law Courts after hours service, and
  • the Commonwealth Courts Portal (including first level help-desk technical support) to the Family Law Courts, the Family Court of Western Australia and Federal Court of Australia.

In 2011–12, the NEC made significant performance improvements compared with 2010–11. A key factor was the introduction of an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system in October 2011. It provides a second tier for helping to direct callers to the most effective and efficient service for their particular needs, being in addition to the initial recorded message.

If they do not choose to go elsewhere for information at that initial stage, the IVR gives options for more specific direction of calls, including, for example, to divert callers to staff with particular skill sets. In addition to the IVR, the NEC embraced the courts’ use of the Connections technology, which improved the efficiency of staff with the electronic sharing of information and improved capability to email clients immediately with relevant information and links. There was an 82 per cent increase in the volume of emails sent in 2011–12 compared with 2010–11. This also reflects how the NEC’s approaches to caller needs evolved during the year, particularly in response to the greatly increased use of emails and smart phones in the community.

These improvements not only had benefits for clients, lawyers and others who contact the courts, but also there were consequential benefits for the costs of the NEC. For example, the reduced times people spent on hold, waiting to be answered resulted in significant reductions in the monthly telephone bills attributable to the 1300 number. Postage costs also benefited from the increased use of email.

These improvements mean that in 2011–12, the NEC met two of its three PBS deliverables (for telephone enquiries served and email responses made).

In summary, in 2011–12 the NEC:

  • had a total of 399,724 telephone calls, of which:
  • 292,002 remained on line waiting to talk to a staff member and, of these, 267,995 (or 92 per cent) were actually served, compared with 245,052 (or 61 per cent of those waiting to be served) in 2010–11. Thus, there was a nine per cent improvement in the percentage of calls actually served/answered between the two years and by individual staff members, a 35 per cent increase in the number of calls taken
  • had abandonments as follows at the three possible stages:
  • 79,093 (20 per cent) were abandoned during the initial pre-recorded message stage. Whilst it is not possible to measure, it is anticipated many of these are ‘good’ abandonments in that the callers are redirected to a better source of information for their needs as a result of the information they hear. The message provides detailed information about other ways in which clients can get information, forms etc. such as via the Commonwealth Courts Portal or the Family Law Courts website
  • 28,629 (seven per cent) were abandoned during the IVR, again it is likely many of these calls are ‘good’ abandonments given the IVR provides callers with further options for assistance
  • 26,975 (6.7 per cent) were abandoned while the callers were in the queue waiting for their call to be answered. Whilst higher than the courts would like, it compares favourably with 2010–11 when 94,217 (24 per cent) were abandoned at this point.
  • transferred 5760 (one per cent) calls to a family law registry, when the caller needed specific information unavailable to the NEC staff
  • sent 83,700 emails in response to either email enquiries or in following up telephone enquiries, compared with 45,853 in 2010–11, and
  • reprinted 6006 divorces on request (a 14 per cent increase on the 5177 in 2010–11).

The NEC did not achieve against the deliverable for the time taken to answer calls. The target is for 80 per cent of calls to be answered in 90 seconds. In 2011–12, the NEC answered 88,931 calls within 90 seconds, taking an average of three minutes and 15 seconds for calls to be answered. This time was halved compared to 2010–11, key factors in achieving this improvement included the IVR and the use of the Connections technology, which provides NEC staff with better access to the information needed to respond more quickly and also provides them with better capability for sending emails in response to telephone calls.

Key factors that contributed to the NEC’s inability to meet the deliverable include:

  • the growth in the total volume of calls
  • a significant increase in email demand inwards and outwards—in two years the number of emails sent by the NEC has more than tripled (24,513 to in 2009–10 to 83,700 in 2011–12), and
  • peaks in demand when the courts change processes.

The following table summarises the NEC’s performance against internal benchmarks.

National Enquiry Centre performance, 2008–09 to 2010–12
Performance indicators and internal targets 2008–09 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12
Less than 5% of calls abandoned when queued 2% 18% 24% 8%
Less than 10% of calls transferred to a registry 5% 4% 2% 1%

Registrar workload project

Work on the registrar workload project continued during 2011–12. In October 2010, the Chief Justice and Chief Federal Magistrate had established a working group to identify, quantify and report on the work undertaken by registrars for the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court.

The Working Group is led by Stephen Andrew (Executive Director Client Services) and also includes Steve Agnew (A/Deputy CEO FMC), Angela Filippello (Principal Registrar Family Court), Adele Byrne (Principal Registrar FMC), Marianne Christmann (Regional Registry Manager NSW/ACT) and Jamie Crew, (Registry Manager, Newcastle). Its terms of reference were to:

  • identify the categories of work undertaken by registrars in each registry
  • identify the key drivers of the registrars’ workload
  • quantify the workload, including the allocation of registrar resources in each registry to each court and the use of that resource
  • report on the workload analysis, and
  • make appropriate recommendations on resourcing.

By 30 June 2012, the working group had completed the collection and analysis of significant data and information concerning registrars’ work and workloads and had commissioned an independent evaluation of the functions associated with hearing divorce applications. Extensive consultation had also been undertaken with the judiciary, registrars, sessional registrars, registry managers and other key review stakeholders.

The group recommended to the Chief Executive Officer that a detailed implementation plan be developed, pending acceptance by Chief Justice and Chief Federal Magistrate of some or all of the recommendations. The Executive Director Client Services will be responsible for the implementation of the report’s recommendations and will formally report progress within six months of any final decision being made.

Janet Kitcher Excellence in Performance Award

The Janet Kitcher Excellence in Performance Award honours the late Janet Kitcher (a Family Court employee at the time of her death). It aims to bestow recognition on high achieving employees of the courts for their outstanding contributions to the workplace. Recipients of this award perform extraordinarily well within their role, excelling to achieve outstanding client service by demonstrating:

  • ethical standards and integrity
  • innovation and pro-activity
  • respect for people and cultures, and
  • cooperation and positive behaviours.

The winner for 2011–12 was Sally Mashman from the National Enquiry Centre (NEC).

Sally has worked for both courts, commencing with the Federal Magistrates Court in January 2001 and then transferring to her present role as manager of the NEC in August 2009. Sally has performed to a high standard and her contribution to the courts has gone beyond that which is ordinarily required of an employee in her role. In particular, Sally has been proactive in implementing innovative work practices and is solutions focussed.

Other nominees in 2011–12 were:

  • Roland Andronicos, Sydney/Parramatta, Systems Support Officer
  • Kate Clarke, Newcastle, Judicial Associate
  • Sarah Hession, Melbourne, Associate to FM Bender
  • Kym Hopwood, Brisbane, Judicial Services team leader
  • Greg Johannesen, North Queensland, Registry Manager
  • Megan Junker, Brisbane, Client Service Officer
  • Teresa Kane, Brisbane, Registrar
  • Julie Kearney, Newcastle, Registrar
  • Kristen Murray, Melbourne, Senior Legal Advisor, and
  • Andrew Tavares, National Support Office, IT Help Desk analyst.

Assets and property management

The most significant property-related activities at various court locations in 2011–12 are detailed below.

Sydney

In January 2011, the Federal Court of Australia vacated level one of the Commonwealth Law Courts, Lionel Bowen Building. The vacated space provided an opportunity to redress a shortage of courtrooms in Sydney. A project was completed in November 2011, delivering four new courtrooms in the Sydney CBD.

Adelaide

A reconfiguration of the Adelaide subpoena viewing room was completed in June 2012. This project moved the subpoena viewing area, which had been situated in the south-eastern corner of the ground floor and entered from a small corridor, to the main registry area. There were multiple issues with the former location, including accessibility and security. The subpoena viewing room is now within the immediate environ of the Adelaide registry (ground floor) where the majority of resources are available to support clients and practitioners.

Brisbane

To address the shortage of judicial accommodation in Brisbane, two additional chambers were constructed on level nine in June 2012, to accommodate visiting judiciary and full court sittings and provide visiting chambers for federal magistrates when required.

An upgrade of the Brisbane subpoena viewing room was completed in December 2011. The area was originally an office area and, consequently, there were multiple issues with the room, including security, lack of storage and configuration not conducive with the function. The upgrade provides an improved amenity for clients and practitioners.

Parramatta

The Family Law Courts National Enquiry Centre (NEC), based at the Parramatta registry, was established in April 2006 to provide a centralised telephone and email service to people contacting the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court. The NEC has grown over time, which had placed demands on the accommodation—there was limited space for staff. An upgrade of the facility was undertaken early in 2012 to improve staff amenities, including additional work points and an improved mail dispatch area.

A furniture replacement program was also implemented at the Parramatta registry. This replaced furniture in chambers and registrars’ offices that had been in place since the construction of the building in 1991.

Dandenong

The Family Court entered into a new five-year lease in March 2012. As a result various works were undertaken at the registry to sustain the additional five year term. The works included the upgrade of the judicial conference room, replacement of furniture in the public waiting areas, and an upgrade of the kitchens and bathrooms throughout the building both in judicial areas and in the public areas. The works have lifted the appearance and functionality of the registry and provide improved amenities for clients, practitioners and staff.

Hobart

Two projects were undertaken at the Hobart registry in 2011–12. The registry counters were reconfigured to establish a safe room for the courts’ clients who require separation whilst attending court. The project improved the functionality of the area and an improved work point layout. Additional work was undertaken to establish a small conference room, improve the registry manager’s office and upgrade the staff kitchen facilities.

Albury

The registry underwent a significant fit out in 2009 with the remainder of the works delivered in 2011–12. This included the replacement of public seating in the courtroom. All works are now complete and provide improved amenities for clients, practitioners and staff.

Canberra

Improved visual and physical security was provided in March 2012 by installing additional perimeter fencing at the Canberra registry.

Cairns

Carpet replacement was undertaken in both chambers and the courtroom. This has improved the aesthetics of an aging space.

Media management

The courts have experienced a very busy year in terms of media management and in the wide media coverage involving cases and issues relating to the courts.

There was a large increase in the number of media reports that mentioned the Family Court in 2011–12. Based on media articles provided to the courts by Media Monitors, during the past year there were approximately 1456 media reports that mentioned the Family Court, which is more than double the number of reports from the previous year (691).

The Federal Magistrates Court also experienced an increase in media coverage, with approximately 460 reports specifically referring to the Court, compared to 435 in the previous year. There was a noticeable increase in the number of media reports covering the Court’s general federal law work. The Federal Magistrates Court dealt with many high-profile cases, particularly in regard to its industrial relations, migration and copyright jurisdiction. There appears to have been a growth in awareness by the media of this type of work conducted in the Federal Magistrates Court.

The figures provided above include reports from mainstream media such as print, radio and television. They do not cover news reports that have featured only on internet-based media outlets or on other forums such as blogs.

The significant increase in the media coverage involving the Family Court can be attributed to a high-profile case that was heard in the Brisbane registry. The matter, known as Garning & Director-General, Department of Communities (Child Safety and Disability Services), is a Hague convention matter in which Justice Forrest found that the father had not consented to the relocation of the children from Italy to Australia. Forrest J ordered the return of the children to their home country. His Honour found that under the Hague Convention and in accordance with the regulations, Italy was the appropriate forum for the mother to pursue her parenting dispute and seek an altered parenting arrangement with the father, should she wish to do so. The unprecedented media coverage occurred in May 2012 following the mother’s refusal to facilitate the return of the children to Italy. At the time of reporting, this matter is still before the Family Court of Australia.

A significant amount of effort was placed in generating awareness amongst interested journalists that the courts publish their judgments online and that they are available to all members of the public. Many journalists subscribed to the courts’ email alert service which has resulted in an increase in the number of media articles relating to the courts’ decisions.

The Family Law Courts continue to be challenged by the assumptions (made by the media) that when there is an incident involving a man, conducting a protest for example, that it must involve a family law dispute and therefore, must involve the Family Law Courts. An example from the previous year was in relation to a man who conducted a protest on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As stated in last year’s report, there had been no record of the man having been involved in family law proceedings – despite the media coverage suggesting otherwise.

That same assumption was applied by many in the media in late 2011 when a man was involved in a hostage situation in Parramatta. The man entered the chambers of a legal practitioner with a young girl and refused to come out. He did not appear to be talking to the media or giving interviews, nor did he have a placard stating his grievance, so on face value it would have been difficult to categorically state the motivation behind his behaviour. With television, radio, online and social media competing with each other to report the situation, broad assumptions were made. Some examples of the media reporting include:

"A man is holding his 11 year old daughter hostage at Parramatta Family Court. The man is holding NSW Police at bay claiming he has a bomb to him. Fire Crews and NSW Police have sealed off the area."ink"2
"Breaking News – A father has strapped a bomb to himself and his holding an 11yo girl, believed to be his daughter, at the Parramatta Family Court in Sydney."3

As in the Sydney Harbour Bridge incident, very few journalists contacted the Court to confirm whether the incident was in fact, in the Family Court building or whether the man had proceedings before the Family Court.

In this instance, the Court issued a statement and spent many hours contacting various media outlets to correct the record that the incident was not in the Court premises and that court records indicated that the man was not involved in proceedings before the Family Court.

The examples of misreporting described above contributed to the courts looking at how the use of social media could assist in such situations. During 2011–12 a social media working group was formed to identify ways in which the courts can use Twitter as a way of engaging directly with people who have an interest in the courts and its activities. The outcome of the research is likely to be reported in 2012–13. In addition to this work, the media manager was involved in an external social media working group involving some Victorian state courts, tribunals and other bodies.

Hundreds of enquiries were received from various media outlets during 2011–12. They ranged from requests for formal interviews, statements from the courts, statistical data, background information, copies of judgments and other details.

In addition to responding to requests for information and assistance, the courts issued 10 media releases and formal statements during the year and published two opinion pieces. These generally related to correcting misinformation that had been reported in the public domain, the Court’s involvement with the Indonesian courts, judicial appointments or retirements and media releases relating to missing children.

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

In 2011–12 there were seven cases that involved publication orders made by the Federal Magistrates Court and one publication order issued by the Family Court. Widespread coverage of such matters has often assisted in the recovery of the missing children.

A significant amount of time was spent liaising with journalists that have a particular interest in family law. Chief Justice Bryant and Chief Justice Faulks provided one-on-one interviews with journalists from The Daily Telegraph, The Australian, ABC TV and SBS Radio.

Three federal magistrates conducted formal interviews with the media during the year on various topics including family law and pets, the Court’s relocation list pilot in the Melbourne registry and a general interview regarding the work of the Court in Queensland.

As part of an ongoing review of ways in which the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court can work more closely with the administration of the Federal Court, a formal agreement was made during the year to merge the media management services of the three courts. In addition to assisting each court in the management of media enquiries, the courts’ media monitoring services were also merged which has resulted in savings to each court and eliminated duplication of this service.

Public information

Throughout 2011–12, the courts continued to produce a range of brochures and fact sheets encompassing all areas of their jurisdiction. The courts’ websites are an important communication tool for providing information about court processes, fees and charges, relevant legislation, circuit details, daily court listings, the Commonwealth Courts Portal, contact details and corporate information. The websites also provide a subscription service.

In addition to providing public information through the courts’ websites, information about family law is provided through the Family Law Courts website (www.familylawcourts.gov.au). This provides a centralised location for all information relating to the federal family law courts.

Below are the statistics for the number of unique visitors using the Family Law Courts website during 2011–12.

Family Law Courts website statistics July 2011—June 2012
Month Unique visitors
July 2011 62,873
August 2011 29,730
September 2011 57,904
October 2011 No statistics available
November 2011 No statistics available
December 2011 29,655
January 2012 71,386
February 2012 71,320
March 2012 73,653
April 2012 72,949
May 2012 77,262
June 2012 72,874

Internal communication

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

  • Chief Justice eMessages
  • Chief Federal Magistrate eMessages
  • CEO eMessages
  • Chief Executive Instructions
  • Client service advices
  • Courtside
  • The Court Exchange
  • Connections
  • Intranet messages, and
  • The Legal Express.

Local registry consultation

During 2011–12, the family law registries engaged at the local level with law societies, family law pathways networks, court user forums and community-based organisations concerned with family support and the family law system. This consultation ensured that registries received regular feedback about users’ experiences of registry services and the courts and were able to improve the service and approach to clients. It also ensures that the courts are well placed to make effective referrals to community-based services for clients who may require ongoing support.

Local pathways groups or networks are a key forum for engagement. Pathways is a family law interagency network, established in 2005 and funded by the Attorney-General’s Department. It aims to facilitate a more integrated family law system, particularly for community-based agencies that deal with separated families, family dispute resolution and associated issues such as family violence. In some areas members include those involved with health and child protection.

In addition to general consultations, registries continued to engage with community-based organisations and other jurisdictions about best practice approaches to support those clients who are subject to, or fear, violence from their partner, former partner or other family members.

A significant innovation in 2011–12 was the courts’ user satisfaction survey, conducted at all major and medium sized registries. The survey process is consistent with one of the seven platforms for excellence in the international courts excellence framework. The feedback from the survey has informed registries about the areas where the courts can perform more effectively and encouraged registries to keep on doing the things which court users say they do well. This data also informed registries’ discussions with stakeholders.

The registries also worked with universities, offering or participating in moot courts and other opportunities and information for students; and with the legal profession at the local level, including with continuing professional development. Whilst not consultation as such, initiatives such as these are important in terms of relationship building and awareness building about the particular circumstances and needs of family law and of the people who need to use family law services.

Environmental management

The courts are currently developing a corporate Environmental Management System (EMS) to ensure an overarching and systematic approach to improving its environmental performance. The EMS is being developed to conform to the relevant Australian and international standard (AS/NZS ISO 14001:2004).

A number of elements of the courts’ EMS have already been completed, and are reviewed and/or updated where relevant in accordance with the EMS standard. Elements completed to date include:

  • an environmental policy outlining the courts’ broad commitment to environmental management
  • an environmental risk register identifying significant environmental aspects and impacts for the courts and treatment strategies to mitigate them. This register has been reviewed annually since its development
  • an environmental legal register to identify any relevant environmental legal requirements for the courts (this register also includes other requirements such as applicable Federal Government policy requirements). This register has been reviewed annually since its development, and is available on the intranets
  • an environmental annual plan (environmental objectives, targets and programs) to identify environmental targets and associated performance indicators. The plan has since been reviewed and a revised plan was under development at 30 June 2012
  • an EMS management review report has been submitted to ensure management is informed of the status of the EMS and to provide an opportunity for feedback, improvement and endorsement
  • an EMS manual outlining procedures for each element of the EMS, as well as summary information on each element, and
  • a range of forms to accompany the EMS procedures and other requirements.

During 2011–12, the courts worked within its EMS to minimise their environmental impact through a number of specific measures, either new or continuing, as follows.

Energy

  • An energy reduction project was completed. It involved implementing feasible recommendations from energy audits conducted at several sites. Recommendations implemented included:
    • lighting upgrades at the Newcastle, Darwin, Dandenong and Townsville registries to more energy efficient lights and more effective controls
    • installation of supplementary air conditioning controls timers reprogrammed in kitchen hot water units, and
    • rationalisation of electronic equipment such as printers.

Whilst it is difficult to accurately quantify savings from the measures, electricity data for the sites that received lighting upgrades indicate energy usage reductions of up to 30 per cent and savings of approximately $25,000 in 2011–12.

Electricity contracts continue to be reviewed to ensure value for money. New energy supply contracts negotiated for the Commonwealth Law Courts and the Dandenong registry in 2010–11 resulted in estimated savings of $380,000 during 2011–12 (Commonwealth Law Courts savings calculated as per occupation percentages apportioned to the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court).

Information technology

  • An internal ICT sustainability plan was developed to address the requirements for the Federal Government’s ICT Sustainability Plan 2010–15. This plan has been incorporated into the environmental risk register. To date, ICT specific actions progressed have included:
    • a program to shutdown desktops automatically after hours (in test phase). In the meantime, staff are encouraged to shut down their desktops at the end of the day and regular site specific shutdown statistics are published on the intranet to assist with increasing staff awareness
    • e-waste is recycled or reused where possible, including auctioning redundant but still operational equipment
    • utilising whole-of-government procurement of IT equipment where available
    • ensuring ICT Sustainability Plan 2010–15 equipment standards are met when procuring new equipment
    • ensuring fully recyclable packaging where possible
    • replacing printers with more energy efficient models and rationalising where possible as part of a national printer replacement project
    • introducing tablets (significantly more energy efficient) as an alternative to laptops, and
    • a national desktop and monitor replacement project. Existing equipment was replaced with more energy efficient models and rationalised where possible.

Paper

  • Paperless invoice processing was introduced by the courts’ finance section, allowing registries to forward invoices for payment electronically.
  • Fifty per cent recycled content paper was implemented nationally from July 2011. This met a mandatory target of the Federal Government’s ICT Sustainability Plan 2010–15.
  • A working group was set up to investigate issues impacting on paper usage.
  • Secure paper (confidential etc.) continued to be shredded and recycled for all court locations. Non-secure paper recycling was available at 15 sites.

Waste/cleaning

  • A waste recycling (plastics, metal, cardboard etc.) program was implemented at the National Support Office in 2010. In 2010–11, about 25 per cent of waste previously sent to landfill was recycled. In 2011–12 this increased to about 50 per cent.
  • The number of sites with recycling facilities for printer toner cartridges increased by two to a total of 19.
  • Recycling facilities for staff personal mobiles have increased by one site to a total of 11.
  • Electronic media (CDs, work mobiles etc.) continues to be securely shredded and components recycled where possible.

Corporate culture/communication

  • The courts’ Environmental Champions Network (ECN) continues to offer the opportunity for staff to provide their input to environmental matters for the courts. The volunteer membership has increased from five members in 2010 to 20 members representing 13 sites nationally in 2011–12. Projects to date have included:
    • Earth Hour
    • national recycling week
    • mobile muster campaign
    • Christmas electronic equipment shutdown drive
    • launch of environmental logo (below) specific to the courts, and
    • ECN internal online national ‘community’ for interactive communication between members.

Environmental management intranet pages provide information on environmental issues for the courts.

  • Regular articles about the courts’ environmental status are included in the internal e-newsletters Courtside and The Court Exchange.
  • The courts continue to be represented as a member on the (federal) Government Agency Environmental Network (GAEN), an interagency network facilitating the sharing of best practice environmental information. Its membership includes about 30 agencies. The Court’s Environmental Manager is currently chairing one of the GAEN subgroups (the Environmental Management System subgroup).

Property

Fitouts and refurbishments continue to be conducted in an environmentally responsible manner including by:

  • recycling demolished materials where possible
  • maximising reuse of existing furniture and fittings
  • engaging consultants with experience in sustainable development where possible, and
  • maximising use of environmentally friendly products such as recycled content in furniture and fittings, low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint and adhesives, and energy efficient lighting and air conditioning.

Travel

  • Portable videoconferencing facilities have been upgraded at many sites to improve accessibility. Whilst some travel is unavoidable due to the nature of the courts (e.g. travel required for circuit registries), improved access to videoconferencing provides an alternative option in other situations.

Supporting the community

Parramatta

  • On 30 March 2012, Parramatta registry held a fundraising BBQ to raise awareness for autism. The BBQ coincided with the commencement of Autism Awareness Month (which runs throughout April each year). The BBQ was held to support Giant Steps, a school for autistic children in Gladesville NSW. Giant Steps charges no school fees for its students and as a result, needs to raise $2.5million a year to supplement government funding. Just over $660 was raised.
  • The Parramatta registry and the NEC held a fundraiser for the Movember Foundation which supports men’s health causes like Beyond Blue and the Prostate Cancer Foundation. In addition to growing moustaches and gaining sponsorship, a BBQ and market day was also held. A total of $4082 was raised.
  • Parramatta registry held a morning tea fundraiser on 24 October where a total of $384.50 was raised for Pink Ribbon Day.

Brisbane

  • Throughout October 2011, the Principal Registrar, associates and legal associates at the Brisbane registry conducted fundraising morning teas for Feast for Famine, breast cancer and Samaritans Purse. In addition to the morning teas, shoe boxes full of Christmas gifts were collected for underprivileged children.

Footnotes

1 Equivalent to the Total comprehensive (loss) as reported in the Statement of Comprehensive Income Financial Statements for the period ending 30 June 2012. Depreciation is included in the comprehensive (loss) due to the Court not having a Departmental Capital Budget for 2011–12 (and 2010–11).

2 SM Radio Sydney, 10:00 News, 6/09/2011 10:02 am

3 3BA FM Radio Ballarat, 6/09/2011 10:14 am