Outcome and program

The Family Court has one outcome and one program on which it reports in 2012–13. See Figure 3.1.

Figure 3.1 The Family Court’s outcome and program

Outcome 1

As Australia’s specialist superior family court, determine cases with complex law and facts, and provide national coverage as the appellate court in family law matters

Program 1.1

Provision of a Family Court

Whilst the Court’s reporting is for the single program, this report presents information in two streams:

  • judicial services (maintaining an environment that enables judicial officers to make determinations), and
  • registry/client services (provision of effective and efficient registry services).

This approach is considered by the Court to provide clearer reporting of the Court’s performance against its deliverables and key performance indicators, as set out in the Portfolio Budget Statements 2012–13.

Historic performance against KPIs

The Court has eight key performance indicators (KPIs) against which it has reported for the past five years to 2012–13. Table 3.1 shows the results of each of those years.

Table 3.1 Summary of performance against all KPIs targets from 2008–09 to 2012–13

Key Performance Indicators/target

2008–09 result

2009–10 result

2010–11 result

2011–12 result

2012–13 result

Clearance rate more than 100%

106%

100%

104%

100%

101%

75% of matters pending conclusion are less than 12 months old

73%

72%

70%

73%

70%

75% of reserved judgments are waiting less than three months after the conclusion of trial

54%

46%

73%

50%

51%

75% of all counter enquiries are served within 20 minutes

90%

90%

97%

88%

93%

75% of applications lodged are processed within two working days

90%

96%

97%

97%

97%

80% of calls answered within 90 seconds (NEC only)

75%

40%

32%

33%

21%

80% of emails answered within two days (NEC data only)

90%

91%

98%

100%

100%

Complaints—1% of total applications received

1%

1%

2%

0.6%

0.9%

Number of KPI/targets achieved (out of 8)

5

5

4

5

5

The Court has for the past five years successfully met its aim to finalise more cases in a year than start in that year—in other words, to have a clearance rate of at least 100 per cent. Achieving this target means the Court is able to ‘clear out’ as many cases as the number that commence, so that the backlog of cases does not increase.

The Court aims to have more than 75 per cent of its pending (active) applications less than 12 months old. The Court over the past five years has continued to almost achieve this target, suggesting that strategies from previous years are having some affect on improving performance. These strategies have included:

  • implementing operational reports to monitor and review the ageing cases, and
  • judges and registry managers actively coordinating and managing the ageing cases to ensure they progress without unnecessary delays.

Reserved judgment delivery times are an important focus for the Court. The Court aims for 75 per cent being delivered in less than three months.

For the past five years the National Enquiry Centre (NEC) has not been able to meet its target to answer 80 per cent of calls within 90 seconds. The NEC provides a critical client service and is the main point for providing information about many aspects of the Court’s services (and those of the Federal Circuit Court). Its role has expanded, including to support the Commonwealth Courts Portal, and, for that and other reasons, it has been unable to meet the high standard it is trying to achieve. More information about factors that have affected performance in 2012–13 is included later in this part.

The performance indicators for counter enquiries, the processing of lodged applications, email response times and complaints as a percentage of all applications were met.

More detailed information about performance against the eight KPIs is contained in the following reporting.

Judicial services

Judicial services include:

  • determining cases that are complex in law and/or facts and/or have multiple parties
  • covering specialised areas in family law, and
  • providing national coverage as the appellate court in family law matters.

In order to better understand the Court’s performance, it is necessary to understand that the Court’s caseload is predominantly applications for Final Orders, Applications in a Case, and Consent Orders applications. These three types of cases contribute most to the Court’s overall performance.

Final orders applications are mostly cases where clients commence litigated proceedings to obtain parenting and financial orders. The applicants set out their claims to spend time with their children and/or split their financial portfolios (including property and other assets).

Applications in a case are additional proceedings in which a client seeks interim or interlocutory orders before a final hearing.

Consent orders applications are where the clients have agreed or settled on terms relating to the parenting and/or financial issues and they are seeking the Court ratify these by way of making them binding court orders.

Summary of performance

In 2012–13, the Court achieved three judicial key performance indicators and deliverables and was unable to achieve four.

Table 3.2 summarises the Court’s results in delivering judicial services against the key performance indicators and deliverables published in the 2012–13 Portfolio Budget Statements.

Table 3.2 Summary of performance—judicial services

Key performance indicators and deliverables

Target/deliverable

2011–12 target

2011–12 result

2012–13 target

2012–13 result

2012–13 target achieved

Deliverables

Number of finalisations per annum

Final order finalisations

3200

3334

3400

3067

No

Interim order finalisations

3800

3544

3800

3419

No

Consent order finalisations

10,900

10,454

10,700

11,238

Yes

Other order finalisations*

300

350

300

303

Yes

KPIs**

Clearance rate

100%

100%

104%

100%

101%

Yes

Backlog indicators

More than 75% of matters pending conclusion are less than 12 months old

75%

73%

75%

70%

No

More than 75% of reserved judgments are waiting less than three months after the conclusion of trial

75%

50%

75%

51%

No

* The Family Court ‘Other Finalisations’ estimates include other family law finalisations such as Hague, contempt, contraventions, child support appeals and enforcement summons.

** The Court also has a KPI about complaints. This is reported upon in Table 3.4

Note: The Court has separated its reporting for KPIs and deliverables between judicial services and client services to assist with interpreting the differences. See also Table 3.4 for additional Portfolio Budget Statements reporting.

Detailed report on performance

New workload for 2012–13

The Court continues to deal with the most complex and difficult family law cases containing either parenting or financial issues or a combination of both.

Figures 3.2 and 3.3 show the new caseload during 2012–13.

Figure 3.2 Applications filed, 2012–13

Applications

Filed

%

Final orders applications

2807

16%

Application in a case (Interim)

3380

19%

Consent orders applications

11,331

64%

Other applications

316

2%

Total

17,834

100%

 

Issues sought on Applications for Final Orders

Parenting only

924

33%

Financial only

1450

52%

Parenting and financial

399

14%

Other

34

1%

Figure 3.2 Applications filed, 2012–13.

May add to more than 100%, due to rounding.

Figure 3.3 Issues sought on Final Order cases, 2012–13

Figure 3.3 Issues sought on Final Order cases, 2012–13.

Complex cases

The Court’s case mix is predominantly complex cases that often involve multiple issues with 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. Of all the cases finalised during 2012–13, 14.6 per cent required a judge to make the final judgment.

Figure 3.4 shows the changing settlement and attrition trend of the Court’s completed cases and the case management phase where they finalised.

Figure 3.4 Attrition and settlement trend in the Court’s caseload, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.4 Attrition and settlement trend in the Court's caseload, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

 

Stage reached

Per cent cases

Lodged

First Court 
Hearing/ 
Conference

Pre-trial 
conferencing

Trial Phase/ 
Docket entry

Trial Phase 
Management

Commence 
trial

Judgment

2008–09

100

83

54

42

31

29

11.2

2009–10

100

84

54

43

31

30

13.2

2010–11

100

83

53

44

29

29

12.1

2011–12

100

82

56

47

31

30

12.9

2012–13

100

82

51

42

33

32

14.6

First instance trials

Parties who are unable to settle their dispute require a judge to make a decision after a trial, although frequently parties reach settlement during the trial process.

Figure 3.5 provides the number of cases that are finalised at first instance trial. The Court had fewer trials in 2012–13, reflecting not only less cases coming before the Court but also, more particularly, the Court having fewer judicial officers to hear trials.

Figure 3.5 Cases finalised at first instance trial, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.5 Cases finalised at first instance trial, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Number of finalisations

During 2012–13, the Court had the following finalisation deliverables it expected to obtain:

  • 3400 final order cases
  • 3800 interim orders applications
  • 10,700 consent orders applications, and
  • 300 other orders’ applications.

The targets were based on the Court’s historical achievements, its resource level including judges, the estimated new applications initiated each year and the number of active cases (pending).

Each application type requires a different amount of court resource effort to resolve. For example, final orders applications and associated interim applications require more judicial effort to resolve, whereas consent order applications are mainly administration of cases where parties agree to terms prior to filing. The Court also deals with discrete applications, such as contraventions, contempt and applications made pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Final orders

During 2012–13, 3067 applications for final orders were finalised, about 9.8 per cent below the target and eight per cent less than in 2012–13.

Applications in a case (interim)

During 2012–13, 3419 Application in a case were finalised, about 10 per cent less than the target and 3.5 per cent less than in 2011–12. These applications are associated with an existing case and typically can be dealt with relatively quickly.

Consent orders

During 2012–13, 11,238 consent orders applications were finalised, which is five per cent more than target and 7.5 per cent more than were finalised in 2011–12. These applications are the least complex of the Court’s workload and are usually dealt with by a registrar not a judicial officer.

Figures 3.6 to 3.9 display five year trends in filings, finalisations and pending (active) applications.

Figure 3.6 Final orders applications, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.6 Final orders applications, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Figure 3.7 Applications in a case, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.7 Applications in a case, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Figure 3.8 Consent orders applications, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.8 Consent orders applications, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Figure 3.9 All applications, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.9 All applications, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Clearance rate

The Court aims for a clearance rate of 100 per cent, that is, in a year to finalise at least the same number of cases that start. A clearance rate of 100 per cent or higher indicates that the Court is able to keep up with its new work and prevent an increase in its backlog of pending cases. In 2012–13, the Court achieved a clearance rate of 101 per cent.

Figures 3.10 shows five year trends in clearance rates.

Figure 3.10 All applications, clearance rates, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.10 All applications, clearance rates, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Backlog indicators

The backlog is the number of cases and applications that are pending (that is, still active) at the end of the year. These applications are waiting for a court event to occur or are being actively managed for their next court event. In particular, ageing applications that are beyond the timeliness target are a primary focus, the goal being to have them resolved as soon as practicable.

Age of pending applications

All courts have a backlog of active cases. This ensures a steady pending workload to manage as cases start and finalise during the year. The Family Court’s goal is to ensure its pending cases are not too many in number and not excessively aged.

The Court aims to have more than 75 per cent of its pending applications less than 12 months old. At 30 June 2013, the Court nearly met this target by achieving 70 per cent of pending applications being less than 12 months old, compared with 73 per cent at 30 June 2012.

To ensure timeliness is met, the Court regularly reviewed each of its oldest active cases to better understand the causes of the delay and to determine ways in which the older cases could be dealt with more timely. This has shown to be a successful strategy to initially and significantly improve performance to increase and maintain a consistent and manageable proportion of active cases that are, in the main, less than 12 months old.

Figures 3.11 and 3.12 show the five year trend in the age distribution of backlog applications.

Figure 3.11 Age of pending applications, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.11 Age of pending applications, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Figure 3.12 All applications, time pending, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.12 All applications, time pending, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Age of reserved judgments outstanding

The Court aims to have 75 per cent of reserved judgments delivered within three months after the hearing. The Court did not meet this target in 2012–13, with only 51 per cent of judgments as at 30 June 2013 less than three months old, therefore 49 per cent were more than three months.

This measure is misleading because the figure is not reflective of the timeliness of judgments delivered throughout the whole year (75 per cent within three months) because it is a snapshot of judgments outstanding at 30 June 2013.

Figure 3.13 shows the five year trend in reserved judgments outstanding at 30 June each year, compared with the target of 75 per cent. Figure 3.14 shows the five year trend in time for reserved judgments outstanding at 30 June each year.

Figure 3.13 Reserved judgments outstanding (pending) less than three months, as at 30 June 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.13 Reserved judgments outstanding (pending) less than three months, as at 30 June 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Footnote: From 2009–10 this figure covered all reserved judgments, including interlocutory judgments, whereas prior to 2009–10 the information related to final judgments only

Figure 3.14 Time for reserved judgments outstanding (pending), at 30 June 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.14 Time for reserved judgments outstanding (pending), at 30 June 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Percentage of cases finalised

The Court aims to finalise cases within a timely manner. It is, however, mindful that family law cases are particularly difficult and emotional, and the Family Court’s decisions affect many lives, potentially for many years. Therefore, the Court also recognises the need to allow clients the time to deal with many emotions that a family breakdown and the court process can cause. It is difficult to set and achieve a timeliness target because the number of variables affecting the parties involved in each case has unquantifiable impacts on its progress towards a decision.

Although the Court does not have performance indicators in the Portfolio Budget Statements about the time to finalise cases, the Court continues to internally monitor the age of its finalised cases to assist with determining resource allocation and the effort required to dispose cases.

Age of finalised applications

The Court’s internal target for timeliness to finalisation is based on previous case history and its case management processes. The ability to get clients before the Court relies heavily on various factors: the Court’s case management principles, delays between court interventions, available resources, and the clients. The Court aims to finalise 75 per cent of cases within 12 months, the other 25 per cent are the most complex cases, many of which cannot be expected to be managed within that timeframe.

Figure 3.15 and 3.16 show the five year trend in the age distribution of applications finalised.

Figure 3.15 Applications finalised within 12 months, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.15 Applications finalised within 12 months, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Figure 3.16 All applications, time to finalise, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.16 All applications, time to finalise, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Age of reserved judgments delivered

The Court aims to deliver 75 per cent of reserved judgments within three months of the completion of a trial. The Court met this target in 2012–13 as 431 (75 per cent) of the 577 reserved judgments (excluding judgments on appeal cases) were delivered within that timeframe.

Figure 3.17 shows the five year trend of reserved judgments delivered within three months and Figure 3.18 shows the breakdown of time to deliver reserved judgments.

Figure 3.17 Reserved judgments delivered within three months, 2008–09 (final judgments only) and 2009–10 to 2012–13 (all judgments)

Figure 3.17 Reserved judgments delivered within three months, 2008–09 (final judgments only) and 2009–10 to 2012–13 (all judgments).

Figure 3.18 Time delay to deliver reserved judgments, 2008–09 (final judgments only) and 2009–10 to 2012–13 (all judgments)

Figure 3.18 Time delay to deliver reserved judgments, 2008–09 (final judgments only) and 2009–10 to 2012–13 (all judgments).

Judicial services complaints

Judges are accountable through the public nature of their work, the requirement that they give reasons for their decisions, and the scrutiny of their decisions on appeal.

In 2012–13, the Court received 88 complaints relating to judges or judicial registrars—35 concerning judicial conduct and 53 on the time taken in delivery of a judgment.

This represented 0.5 per cent of all applications filed (17,834), under the Portfolio Budget Statements target of one per cent (when judicial services complaints and administrative complaints are combined they total 0.9 per cent).

The number of judicial services complaints received by the Court in 2012–13 is shown in Figure 3.19, which also shows the breakdown between complaints about judicial conduct and complaints about delays.

Figure 3.19 Total judicial services complaints, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.19 Total judicial services complaints, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

National coverage as appellate court

Summary of appeal caseload

The Court’s Appeal Division deals with all Full Court appeals. The matters are from decrees of the Family Court of Australia, the Family Court of Western Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

Table 3.3 summarises the appeals workload. More information about appeals is in Part 4 of this report.

Table 3.3 Appeal caseload 2008–09 to 2012–13

 

2008–09

2009–10

2010–11

2011–12

2012–13

% Change

Appeals filed

364

315

328

373

326

-13%

Appeals finalised

361

345

325

332

333

0%

Appeals pending

230

201

203

273

273

0%

Social justice and equity impacts

Self-represented litigants (SRL)

The Court monitors the proportion of self-represented litigants as one measure of the complexity of its caseload. Self-represented litigants add a layer of complexity because they need more assistance to navigate the court system and require additional help and guidance to abide by the Family Law Rules and procedures.

However, the use of legal representation can indicate that the parties consider their matter to be complex and best handled by legal representatives. Figure 3.20 shows litigants who had representation at some point in their proceedings and Figure 3.21 shows the proportion of litigants who had representation at the finalisation of their trial.

The proportion of the Court’s cases and trials involving legal representation have remained relatively steady for the past five years.

Figure 3.20 Proportion of litigants’ representation status, finalised cases, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.20 Proportion of litigants’ representation status, finalised cases, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Figure 3.21 Proportion of litigants’ representation status, trials, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.21 Proportion of litigants’ representation status, trials, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Family violence and abuse (or risk)

Under section 60K of the Family Law Act, the Court must consider and take action on notices of or risk of abuse or family violence. The prescribed notice is to be considered within seven days and dealt with within 28 days of filing. On 7 June 2012, the definition of what constitutes family violence was amended to more broadly define such acts that could fall under the reasoning for filing a Notice of abuse or risk of family violence. This had an immediate impact on the Family Law Courts and significantly increased the number of such applications being filed with final order cases.

Figure 3.22 shows that the number of notices filed had been declining in the previous four years but in the last year, owing to changes highlighted, the number has increased. The relative increase in the rate of Notices in proportion to cases filed in the Court was much more significant. The proportion of cases raising issues of abuse and family violence was steadying, but in 2012–13 there was a significant rise. This had a significant resource impact on the Court as it needed to more proactively manage these cases.

Figure 3.22 Notices of child abuse or risk of family violence filed, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.22 Notices of child abuse or risk of family violence filed, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Figure 3.23 Proportion of final order cases in which a notice of child abuse or risk of family violence is filed, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.23 Proportion of final order cases in which a notice of child abuse or risk of family violence is filed, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Magellan cases

Magellan cases involve allegations of serious physical abuse or sexual abuse of a child and undergo special case management. When a Magellan case is identified, it is managed by a small team consisting of a judge, a registrar and a family consultant. Magellan case management relies on collaborative and highly coordinated processes and procedures. A crucial aspect is strong interagency coordination, in particular with state and territory child protection agencies. This ensures that problems are dealt with efficiently and that high-quality information is shared. An independent children’s lawyer is appointed in every Magellan case, for which legal aid is uncapped.

Typically, a Magellan case is one where a notice of abuse or family violence is filed, although not all notices will necessarily result in the case being classified as a Magellan matter. The Court assesses and determines from the issues raised the matters that are managed under the Magellan program. Therefore, it does not automatically follow that an increase in the filing of notices of abuse or family violence with its wider definitions would automatically mean a higher number of Magellan cases. This proved to be the situation in 2012–13, with the number of new Magellan cases falling.

Figure 3.24 details the number of Magellan cases commenced and finalised in the past five years.

Figure 3.24 Magellan cases, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Figure 3.24 Magellan cases, 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Registry and National Enquiry Centre services

Registry services are provided to people who wish to file an application or are considering filing an application in the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

Registry services include:

  • provision of effective support to the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia
  • family law telephone and referral services, and
  • family law document processing.

They are complemented by the services of the National Enquiry Centre (NEC), to which all 1300 telephone calls go automatically and all emails in the first instance, as well as follow up enquiries from clients about their Family Court or Federal Circuit Court files.

Summary of performance

During 2012–13, family law registries and the NEC provided a high level of service to clients and other users of the Family Law Courts and to the judiciary of both courts. They responded to increased demand—more counter enquiries and more emails, although less telephone calls.

The client services’ Portfolio Budget Statement (PBS) deliverables for counter enquiries and email were met but not the third deliverable for the number of telephone calls taken. Three of the four key performance indicators (KPI) were also met. The fourth KPI, with a target of 80 per cent of telephone calls to the NEC being answered in 90 seconds, was not met. The NEC continued to investigate how improvements might be achieved in this area. The KPI for complaints as a percentage of total applications was met this year.

More detailed reporting of the results follows.

Table 3.4 summarises the performance of the various client services functions of the Court against PBS key performance indicators and deliverables. Please note the data in this table relates to services provided for both the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court by the family law registries and the NEC, with the exception of the complaints KPI, which is Family Court specific.

Table 3.4 Summary of performance—client services

Key performance indicators and deliverables

Target/deliverable

2011–12 target/result

2012–13 result

2012–13 achieved

Deliverables

 

Counter enquiries

151,000

161,800/187,665

243,384

Yes

Telephone enquiries*

287,600

253,800/267,995

223,419

No

Email enquiries**

50,300

53,900/83,700

107,798

Yes

KPIs

 

Counter enquiries

75% of all counter enquiries are served within 20 minutes

75%/88%

93%

Yes

Time taken to process applications lodged

75% of all applications lodged are processed within two working days

75%/97%

97%

Yes

NEC telephone calls answered

80% of calls answered within 90 seconds

80%/33%

21%

No

Email response times

80% of emails answered within two days

80%/100%

100%

Yes

Complaints***

Complaints—1% of total applications received

1%/0.6%**

0.9%

Yes

* This figure is calls answered, not calls received at the PABX.

** NEC figures only. This figure covers emails sent in response to emails received by the courts, and emails sent by the courts as part of responding to telephone calls.

*** This figure includes complaints about the administration of the Court and judicial services complaints, for which detailed information is reported elsewhere in this Part.

Note: the Court has separated its reporting for KPIs and deliverables for greater transparency in its reporting for judicial services and client services. See also Table 3.1 for additional Portfolio Budget Statements reporting.

Detailed report on performance

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 Circuit Court. 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 (except the Family Court of Western Australia) general enquiries, lodge documents relating to proceedings, provide copies of documents and/or orders and facilitate the viewing of court files and subpoenas. Client service staff provided an efficient and effective service when dealing with litigants in person and the legal profession face-to-face at registry counters across Australia.

During 2012–13, the family law registries continued to provide a high level of service and met noticeably increased volumes of counter enquiries.

As detailed in Table 3.3, it is estimated that the registries dealt with 243,384 counter enquiries in 2012–13 from clients or other people seeking information face-to-face. This compared to 187,384 in 2011–12. The increase is marked, however the introduction of q-matic queuing systems in the six largest registries has resulted in more reliable counting of attendances at the courts’ registries. The new queuing system has provided clarity around counting that was not available previously. For example, where some registries had separate counters for subpoena viewing rooms, these areas have now been relocated into the one counter service area thus enabling a more accurate capturing of this data.

In 2012–13, an estimated 93 per cent of clients were served within 20 minutes, against a target of 75 per cent, compared to 88 per cent in 2011–12.

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, the same as in 2011–12).

National Enquiry Centre (NEC)

Telephone and email enquiry and referral services

The NEC continued providing family law client service support by telephone and email for the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court. The NEC deals with all first phone and email contacts to the courts and the majority of phone and email enquiries from existing clients relating to their files. The NEC also supports the Commonwealth Courts Portal (CCP), the After Hours Service, prints all divorce orders and processes divorce order reprints.

In 2012–13, the NEC sought to build on the significant performance improvements it had made in 2011–12. The introduction of an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system in October 2011 continued to provide positive results for clients of the courts, helping to direct callers to the most effective and efficient service for their particular needs, without needing to wait for their call to be answered in person.

The courts’ telephone answering system has three distinct stages, firstly a recorded message providing general information about the most efficient ways to receive a wide range of information, including via the CCP or the Family Law Courts website. If callers do not choose to go elsewhere for information at that initial stage (and in 2012–13, 84,887 callers did so, compared with 79,093 in 2011–12), the IVR gives options for more specific direction of calls, including, for example, to divert callers to staff with particular skill sets (another 65,932 callers abandoned their calls at this point in 2012–13, compared with 28,975 in 2011–12). As noted below, as best the courts can determine, it is likely many of these abandonments are ‘good’ in that people have received the information they need at that point in time. In support of this view, further improvements were made to the IVR in 2012–13 to help with more effective call direction.

That said, the NEC did not meet either the KPI for the percentage of calls answered within 90 seconds or the deliverable for actual telephone enquiries in 2012–13. It did, however, perform strongly against the KPI related to email response times, even with a marked increase in actual email numbers.

Key factors affecting the NEC’s performance were a growth in responsibilities (the NEC took over the financial processing of proof of divorce requests during the year), a 21 per cent increase in emails sent, including significant growth in responding to enquiries about the CCP. These were further impacted by reduced staffing levels in 2012–13. As part of initiatives to respond to the challenges, in 2012–13, the NEC continued with endeavours to streamline processes and support staff by:

  • providing ongoing coaching and training to enhance performance
  • providing peer support and mentoring
  • updating information on the client service wiki when a change is made, and
  • creating a collaborative work place where staff are involved in operational decisions when possible.

It is hoped that these actions will contribute to maintaining high standards for email response times and for the total number of telephone calls answered, plus contribute to improvements against the KPI for the time taken to answer calls. It is, however, recognised that the NEC works in a high demand work area, where staff are dealing with a myriad of enquiries, and like all areas of the courts, demand can outstrip capacity, especially in peak demand periods.

In summary, in 2012–13 the NEC:

  • had a total of 390,349 telephone calls, of which:
    • 235,177 remained on the line waiting to talk to a staff member and, of these, 223,419 (or 95 per cent) were actually served, compared with 267,995 (or 92 per cent of those waiting to be served) in 2011–12. There was a two per cent decrease overall in calls made to the NEC in 2012–13 compared with the previous year. Factors thought to contribute to this include better information being provided in emails, thus clients not requiring further information by telephone; also better information on the Family Law Courts website for clients requiring proof of divorce (this was substantiated by analysis of call type with a decline in these calls after the website was updated with self-service information). The busiest time was January to March 2013 and peaks such as this make it more difficult to manage workloads and call wait times. 
      The NEC maintains records of call types and in 2012–13, it had a 30 per cent increase in calls associated with the CCP, totalling 19,549 calls for the year. The most significant categories of calls were general enquiries on filing, followed by 45,198 calls concerned with Federal Circuit Court matters and 25,362 concern pre-filing of divorce applications.
    • The five per cent that abandoned while waiting to be answered was a three per cent improvement on 2011–12.
  • had abandonments as follows at the three possible stages:
    • 84,887 (52 per cent of all abandoned calls) 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 callers can get information, forms etc. such as via the CCP or the Family Law Courts website. This level of abandonment (52 per cent) during the initial pre-recorded message, compared with 20 per cent abandoning at this first stage in 2011–12, suggests the messaging being provided is more effective in call direction
    • 65,932 (41 per cent of all abandoned calls) were abandoned during the IVR. Again, this was a significant difference to 2011–12 when only seven per cent abandoned at this stage, which suggests likewise that many of these calls are ‘good’ abandonments given the IVR provides callers with further options for assistance
    • 11,844 (seven per cent of the total abandonments) were abandoned while the callers were in the queue waiting for their call to be answered. Whilst higher than the courts would like, it was comparable with 2011–12 when 6.7 per cent were abandoned at this stage.
  • transferred 3647 calls (one per cent of calls answered) to a family law registry, when the caller needed specific information unavailable to the NEC staff
  • sent 107,798 emails in response to either email enquiries or in following up telephone enquiries, compared with 83,700 in 2011–12—a 21 per cent increase in total emails, including a 54 per cent increase in telephone initiated emails, compared to 2011–12 (so emails sent as a result of telephone calls)
  • reprinted 5916 divorce forms on request, and
  • printed 84,816 divorce orders after these has been granted by the courts, compared with 85,584 in 2011–12.

As noted above, 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 2012–13, the NEC answered 21 per cent or 46,917 calls within 90 seconds compared with 45 per cent (88,931 calls) in 2011–12. In 2012–13, callers waited six minutes and 29 seconds for their calls to be answered, compared with three minutes and 15 seconds in 2011–12. Also, as noted above key factors contributing to this included a growth in other areas of service and service demand (emails, financial processing of divorce order reprints) and resource constraints. The NEC maintained the average time it took on each call, at four minutes and 25 second (four minutes and 24 seconds in 2011–12).

The NEC is expecting some relief in 2013–14, when the financial processing of proof of divorce requests can be done by online payment. In addition, a website review was underway at 30 June 2013, and it was hoped that improvements to the website might further reduce the need for people to make telephone calls.

Table 3.5 summarises the NEC’s performance against internal benchmarks.

Table 3.5 National Enquiry Centre performance, 2009–10 to 2012–13

Performance indicators and internal targets

2009–10

2010–11

2011–12

2012–13

Less than 5% of calls abandoned when queued

18%

24%

8%

5%

Less than 10% of calls transferred to a registry

4%

2%

1%

1%

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 form.

The complaints and feedback form explains how clients can make complaint or provide feedback to the Court. This can be found on the Family Court website (www.familycourt.gov.au) and accessed via the ‘Quick Links’ section of the home page (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 conduct are 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 2012–13, the Family Court recorded:

  • 68 complaints about administrative matters. These are complaints relating to family law registries, which service both the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court, and include complaints about court administrative procedures and processes, staff personal conduct, privacy, security and the client feedback process
  • 53 complaints about judicial delays and 35 about judicial conduct (see Figure 3.19). These matters are referred to the Judicial Complaints Advisor in the Chambers of the Deputy Chief Justice, and
  • five compliments.

At 68, the number of administrative complaints represented 0.4 per cent of all applications received. Combined with 88 judicial complaints (see the section ‘Judicial services complaints’ for more detail) complaints represented 0.9 per cent of applications received, thus achieving against the KPI (for complaints to be no more than one per cent of applications received).

Figure 3.25 provides a breakdown across nine categories of administrative complaints issues in 2012–13.

During 2012–13, the Court also recorded 56 complaints about matters as family law legislation, matters in other jurisdictions, family assessment processes 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.

Figure 3.25 Administration complaints issues 2012–13

Figure 3.25 Administration complaints issues 2012–13.

As a result of client feedback during 2012–13, aside from issues being resolved for clients on an individual basis, the Court was able to review mailing procedures, the legal practitioners drop box service, and subpoena viewing processes.