The Family Court of Australia
The Family Court helps to resolve and, if necessary, determines family disputes brought before it. This is its “judicial purpose”. The staff of the Court support the Judges in their exercise of judicial power.
Court staff also provide Registry services to clients of the Court and other services not related to the exercise of judicial power but needed to support the Court’s operations. These services are described as “administrative” services and it is these administrative services to which this Policy applies.
The Family Court is committed to courteous and effective client service and to responding to complaints and feedback as effectively as possible. Feedback about administrative matters helps to drive service improvement. If we make an administrative mistake, we will do what we can to provide a remedy. If we cannot provide a remedy, we will say why this is so.
This policy is intended to comply with Australian Standard AS 4269-1995 (Complaints Handling) and the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Good Practice Guide for Effective Complaint Handling. It will be applied accordingly.
Where this policy applies
This policy applies to administrative services provided by Court staff and contractors, including registry services. It covers also the conduct of staff and adherence to court policy.
A complaint concerning services provided to the Federal Circuit Court by this Court, will be addressed by this Court.
Where this policy does not apply
Outcomes of court hearings
The administration of the Court cannot address judicial matters. Accordingly, this policy does not apply to complaints or feedback about judicial decisions or the outcomes of hearings. A party who is not happy with the outcome of a judicial matter, can seek a remedy only by formal application seeking review or appeal.
Judicial conduct and delays in delivering judgments
Complaints about the personal conduct of a Judge or other judicial officer in court or in connection with judicial functions, such as delays in delivering reserved judgments, may be addressed under the Judicial Complaints Procedure of the Court. Under this Procedure, they will be referred to the Judicial Complaints Advisor in the Chambers of the Deputy Chief Justice of the Family Court.
The work of expert witnesses
This policy also does not apply to the evidence of expert witnesses, including the contents of family or other reports prepared for a hearing. Witnesses before the Court attract the traditional legal witness immunity in respect of their evidence, which must be tested and dealt with in hearings before the Court as part of the judicial process.
Complaints about the conduct of legal representatives, including lawyers acting as Independent Children's Lawyers, also fall outside this Complaints Policy. In each State and Territory, there are special arrangements through which complaints may be made about members of the legal profession. The State or Territory law societies or bar associations would be able to assist further.
Complaints to be dealt with in special ways
Because of specific legal or procedural requirements, some types of administrative complaints must be dealt with in special ways. Examples of some of these types of complaints are:
- Staff grievances and complaints, which must be handled in accordance with the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement, the Public Service Act 1999 and Regulations and any court policy applying to the particular type of complaint, such as the Bullying and Harassment Policy.
- Correspondence raising a monetary or legal claim against the Court, which must be handled in accordance with the Attorney General’s Legal Services Directions and applicable court policy and practice.
- A whistle blowing complaint, which must be handled in accordance with the Court’s procedures for Whistle blowing Reports.
- A complaint that an Australian Public Service employee has breached the APS Code of Conduct, which is dealt with under the Public Service Act 1999.
Oral feedback and complaints
Feedback and complaints must be made in writing, where possible. Where this is not possible, Court staff will assist the complainant to make the complaint. A Complaint and Feedback form is available.
Vexatious complaints and complainant misconduct
The Court may not respond to a complaint that is vexatious, repetitive or lacks substance. Allegations of misconduct, including criminality or corruption, without supporting evidence may be treated as lacking substance. The complaints process is not a means to harass the Court and its staff. Abusive or threatening correspondence or conduct will not be tolerated and may be referred to the appropriate authority. Affected parties may also be told of any threat.
A complainant dissatisfied with the outcome of the Court’s complaint process in respect of a matter to which it applies, may request that the management of the complaint be examined at a higher level.
Confidentiality and procedural fairness
While anyone may make a complaint, confidentiality requirements may affect what can be said about a matter to a person who is not a party to the matter. In handling a complaint about an individual, the Court may be obliged to maintain both the privacy of the individual and his or her rights to procedural fairness. These rights mean that the Court may have to tell an individual what is being said about him or her, and by whom it is said.
Complaints and feedback, and information about them, are handled in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 and the Court’s Privacy Statement.
This policy will operate subject to the principle of continual improvement. This means that its operation will be reviewed regularly and improvements introduced as deemed necessary.