The Family Court of Australia (FCoA) and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (FCC) are increasing in-person work in a staggered way over the coming months. This is the most appropriate way, at present, for the Courts to balance important health and safety considerations of judges, staff and the community with the need to continue providing an essential service for Australian families. These arrangements are designed to reduce the risk of being in close contact with a court user who may be infectious.

Following detailed risk assessments, the Courts have developed coronavirus safety controls. By applying these controls, the Courts can best ensure the safety of judges, staff and anyone coming into our buildings.

As government advice on community restrictions changes, the Courts will permit a greater number of litigants and their legal representatives to return to Court registries in person.

We have put in place arrangements in all public areas to help people maintain 1.5 metre distance. As well as floor and seat markings, we have introduced a series of posters throughout our court buildings to remind court users of the requirement to maintain the appropriate distance and to wash hands thoroughly and regularly. We have introduced additional cleaning measures to ensure our buildings are clean.

Principles

The key overarching principles relating to the work of Registrars and Child Dispute Services (CDS) during the period of the special arrangements for COVID-19 are as follows:

  1. Prioritising the safety of the community, Judges, Registrars, Family Consultants and staff; minimising the number of people in Court and implementing social distancing practices.
  2. The principle basis upon which work will be conducted by Registrars and CDS in the near future will be by video technology. All work that can be heard remotely should continue to be heard by video.  
  3. Any face-to-face hearings will be conducted in accordance with the social distancing aspects of the Face-to-face In Court Protocol. Any face-to-face CDS events will be conducted in accordance with CDS In-Person Interview Protocol.
  4. Only urgent and appropriate matters will be dealt with in-person.

Registrar work types

1. Divorce lists

In the case of Divorce Lists the following virtual appearance procedure is to apply:

  1. Joint applications – will be done on the papers and parties are not required to attend Court.
  2. Sole applications
    1. will be done on the papers if there are no children to the marriage and parties are not required to attend Court.
    2. will require attendance via telephone by parties and lawyers if there are children under the age of 18 years.
  3. Where Court attendance is required, each matter currently listed will be sent an email by the registry staff advising that parties are to attend virtually and will be provided details to join the virtual courtroom. Parties and lawyers will also be requested to provide their direct contact details (which should be kept confidential from the opposing party) to each Registrar no later than 4:00pm two business days prior to the listing (as Registrars will need to contact them directly should there be any technical difficulties).
  4. Respondents who request to appear in court personally should be advised to attend via telephone or video.
  5. If the applicant is seeking orders for dispensation of service, these will also be dealt with by telephone or video.
  6. If parties or lawyers still appear personally, rather than by telephone or video, the Face-to-face In Court Protocol will apply.

2. FCoA Registrar directions lists

In the case of FCoA Registrar Directions Lists the following virtual appearance procedure is to apply:

  1. All FCoA Registrar Directions Lists will be conducted by telephone or video where limited to a procedural issue.
  2. Where a matter is contested, written submissions are to be filed at the direction of the Registrar with orders to be made in chambers.
  3. Parties and lawyers are requested to provide their direct contact details to each Registrar no later than 4:00pm two business days prior to the listing. Parties will then be allocated a ‘not before’ time on the day of the listing when they must connect to the virtual courtroom either by telephone or internet as required
  4. In the event that parties are in agreement as to the future conduct of the matter, proposed interim consent minutes should be submitted as soon as possible by email to the Registrar for consideration.

3. Discrete property lists, PPP500 lists and contravention lists

In the case of Discrete Property Lists, PPP500 Lists and Contravention Lists the following virtual appearance procedure is to apply:

  1. All Discrete Property Lists, PPP500 Lists and Contravention Lists will be conducted via telephone or video.
  2. Parties and lawyers are requested to provide their direct contact details (which should be kept confidential from the opposing party) to each Registrar no later than 4:00pm two business days prior to the listing. Parties will then be allocated a ‘not before’ time on the day of the listing when they must connect to the virtual courtroom either by telephone or internet as required.
  3. In the event that parties are in agreement as to the future conduct of the matter, proposed interim consent minutes should be submitted by email to the Registrar for consideration as soon as possible.

4. Conferences and ADR events

In the case of Conferences the following virtual procedure is to apply:

  1. All Conferences ADR events are to be conducted using Microsoft Teams or Immediation unless one of the following situations arise:
    1. a party does not have the technology required to attend;
    2. a party objects to the use of Microsoft Teams or Immediation; or
    3. the Conference was scheduled to occur on Microsoft Teams or Immediation but there were technical issues on the day.
  2. Where Conferences are to be conducted via telephone or video, parties will be sent an email which will include dial-in or participation details. Parties will also be requested to provide their direct contact details to each Registrar no later than 4:00pm two business days prior to the listing (to enable the Registrar to contact them should there be any technical difficulties).
  3. Lawyers and parties are still required to provide/exchange the usual documents in advance of the Conciliation Conference (as ordered by the Judge/Registrar) and provide proposed orders to both the Court and to the other party prior to the conference.

5. FCoA Senior Registrar lists

In the case of FCoA Senior Registrar Lists the following procedure is to apply:

  1. Parties and lawyers should attend interim hearings by telephone or video to the greatest extent possible.
  2. The parties and lawyers are still required to provide a short case outline, identifying the evidence they wish to rely upon together with a minute of proposed orders.
  3. Parties and lawyers are requested to provide their direct contact details to each Senior Registrar’s chambers no later than 4:00pm two business days prior to the listing. Parties will then be allocated a ‘not before’ time when they will be contacted on the day of their listing. Parties must ensure they are available by telephone or video until they receive the Court’s call.
  4. Parties who request to appear in Court personally should contact the Senior Registrar’s chambers by email and provide a brief outline as to why the matter is urgent and should remain listed for a face-to-face hearing.
  5. Matters in a Senior Registrar Magellan Lists will be treated as urgent.
  6. If the Senior Registrar directs the parties and lawyers to appear personally, a face-to-face hearing should strictly adhere to the Face-to-face In Court Protocol.

Child Dispute Services (CDS)

1. Interviews with adults

Where interviews are to occur with adult parties, the following procedure is to apply:

  1. Interviews will be conducted by telephone or videoconferencing; and
  2. Family Consultants will contact the parties directly.

2. Interviews with children

For interviews with children, CDS will consider the individual circumstances of each case to form a view as to whether it is safe and appropriate to conduct the interview remotely.

For these interviews, including Child Inclusive Conferences, Child Responsive Program and Family Reports, the following procedure is to apply:

  1. For new orders, CDS are conducting remote interviews with children where appropriate, taking into account the age and maturity level of the child; and
  2. Any orders for Child Inclusive Conferences (CICs) made prior to COVID-19 will be serviced as assessed appropriate by CDS.

3. In-person interviews and observations

Where a remote interview is not appropriate or possible, and the assessment of children is considered by CDS as critical and urgent, an in-person interview and observation will be conducted if the family is in a position to attend the registry.

For these interviews and observations, the following procedure is to apply:

  1. It will be conducted consistent with the CDS In-Person Interview Protocol as far as possible; and
  2. Additional cleaning measures will be deployed to ensure all interview and observation rooms are cleaned between appointments.

Note:

The above arrangements do not cover Regulation 7 Family Consultants. These external Family Consultants have been provided with the Courts’ protocols. The conduct of the assessment is at the discretion of the external consultant.

24 June 2020

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