Introduction

  1. This Practice Direction sets out the procedure for Lighthouse Project related family law proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Court).
  2. It is to be read together with:
    1. the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (as amended by the Family Law Amendment (Risk Screening Protections) Act 2020);
    2. the Family Law Rules 2004;
    3. the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001; and
    4. Joint Practice Direction 1 of 2020 - Core Principles in the Case Management of Family Law Matters.
  3. This Practice Direction applies to Lighthouse Proceedings. Lighthouse Proceedings are defined as cases:
    1. involving parenting issues only; and
    2. filed in one of the pilot sites – Adelaide, Brisbane or Parramatta; and
    3. filed after the date of commencement of the Lighthouse Project at the relevant pilot site (see paragraph 4) (Lighthouse Proceedings).
  4. The commencement dates, unless formally announced otherwise by the Court, for the Lighthouse Project are:
    1. Adelaide – 7 December 2020;
    2. Brisbane – 11 January 2021; and
    3. Parramatta – 11 January 2021.
  5. Any other proceeding that does not meet the criteria of a Lighthouse Proceeding in paragraph 3 will be conducted in accordance with the Court’s other procedures.
  6. This Practice Direction takes effect from the date it is issued and remains in effect until it is superseded or revoked.

Family Safety Risk Screening Process

  1. Parties are encouraged to complete the Family DOORS Triage online risk screen (risk screening process) as soon as possible after filing their initial court documents in order to receive the important benefits of safety planning, service referrals and appropriate case management.
  2. Parties in a Lighthouse Proceeding will be asked to complete the questionnaire via a confidential and secure online platform (accessible on a computer, tablet or mobile), and may also be referred to a family consultant.
  3. In order to ensure that represented and unrepresented parties are able to complete the risk screening process, parties and lawyers are requested to ensure that the party’s personal email address and mobile phone number are provided to the Court as follows:
    1. Both represented and unrepresented parties can provide their email address and mobile phone number, when filing their Initiating Application or Response on the Commonwealth Courts Portal; or
    2. If parties are represented and their lawyer has not provided their email address and mobile phone number, lawyers will be contacted by the Lighthouse Project to request their client’s personal details for the purpose of the risk screening process via the online Personal Information Form. Contact details provided through the online form will be used solely for the purpose of providing a link to the risk screen. This information will not be made available to the other party or parties in the matter.

Confidentiality and Inadmissibility

  1. Sections 10Q-10W of the Family Law Act 1975  (Cth) protect the confidentiality and inadmissibility of any information provided in response to the risk screening process. This means that any information or documents obtained (whether orally or in writing) or generated, including whether or not a party to proceedings under the Family Law Act 1975 completed a risk screening process are:
    1. Confidential; and
    2. Cannot be used as evidence in Court (whether or not exercising federal jurisdiction); and
    3. Cannot be requested by another party.
    4. This protection also extends to reports prepared, recommendations made or referrals created by a family safety risk screening person, such as a Family Counsellor.
  2. Disclosure, or exceptions to the confidentiality and inadmissible of family safety risk screening information would only be allowed in very limited circumstances, including imminent risk of harm to a child or adult, or child abuse. Further details can be found on the Lighthouse website and Part IIA—Family safety risk screening Family Law Act 1975  (Cth).

Case Management Options

  1. Following consideration of the results of the risk screening process, Lighthouse Project Registrars and Family Counsellors will consider and determine the most appropriate case management pathway, assisted by Case Manager and Case Coordinators.
  2. Lighthouse Proceedings will be directed into one of three possible case management pathways:
    1. High risk cases will be referred for immediate action with a Family Counsellor who will provide a tailored, clinical follow up. High risk matters will be referred to an Evatt Registrar for consideration to be placed onto the Evatt List. Further information on the Evatt List is in paragraphs 17 to 22 of the Practice Direction.
    2. Moderate risk cases will be offered safety planning and service referrals as part of the secure online process and will be considered for a range of case management pathways. This may include, if appropriate, court ordered family dispute resolution conducted internally by a specialised team of alternative dispute resolution practitioners, or externally, to resolve or narrow the issues in dispute.
    3. Lower risk cases will be targeted for court-ordered family dispute resolution internally by a specialised team of alternative dispute resolution practitioners, or externally.
  3. The pathway allocated will be determined taking into account:
    1. the results of the risk screening process; and
    2. any recommendations made by Family Counsellor; and
    3. the Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk (NoCAFVoR) filed.
  4. The initial case management pathway allocation is determined by information available at the time of the risk screening process.  Litigants can make arrangements to screen or rescreen if their circumstances change.
  5. Further information about the three case management pathways under the Lighthouse Project can be found here.

Evatt List

  1. The Evatt List is a specialist list that will be conducted in the Court. The list focuses on early information gathering and intervention involving active case management and aims to minimise the number of court events for litigants to safeguard against family violence and other associated risks.
  2. Only Lighthouse Proceedings that have been determined as high risk through the triage and risk screening process are eligible for consideration in the Evatt List.
  3. A Lighthouse Proceeding may be allocated to the Evatt List if:
    1. One or more of the parties (applicant or respondent) has completed the risk screening process;
    2. The matter has been identified as high risk during the triage and risk screening process;
    3. One or more of the parties has participated in a session with a Family Counsellor; and
    4. The Evatt List Registrar has reviewed the case and determined it is appropriate for the Evatt List.
  4. When determining whether a case is appropriate for the Evatt List, the Evatt List Registrar will consider Lighthouse Proceedings which contain high risk features, including allegations of:
    1. Serious abuse or risk of serious abuse of a child of the proceedings whether it be physical, psychological or neglect;
    2. Serious family violence or risk of serious family violence by a party to the proceedings whether it be physical, emotional/psychological or financial;
    3. Exposure or risk of exposure to serious family violence by a party or a child;
    4. Serious drug, alcohol or substance misuse which has caused harm or poses a risk of harm to a child or party;
    5. A party’s mental health issues which has caused harm or poses a serious risk of harm to themselves or others, including a child;
    6. A party who poses a potential risk of self-harm;
    7. Recent threats or attempts to abduct a child; or
    8. Recent threats to harm a child or another person relevant to the proceedings, such as a new partner.
  5. Parties and lawyers with Lighthouse Proceedings in the Evatt List must read and be familiar with the Evatt List Guides for parties and lawyers.
  6. Parties and lawyers are required to file any documents in accordance with the timeframes outlined in the Evatt List Guides.

Further information

  1. For more detailed information about the Lighthouse Project, including Family DOORS Triage platform, forms and guides, please refer to the Lighthouse Project website.

 

THE HONOURABLE JUSTICE WILLIAM ALSTERGREN
CHIEF JUDGE
FEDERAL CIRCUIT COURT OF AUSTRALIA
DATE: 3 DECEMBER 2020

Footnote:

The NoCAFVoR is a Court form which must be filed by all parties for all cases involving parenting issues. More information about the NoCAFVoR can be found here.