30% INCREASE in registered users of the Commonwealth Courts Portal
Joint Family Violence Action Plan DEVELOPED
Introduction of LIVE CHAT on the Court's website
New standards of practice for family assessments and reporting DEVELOPED
About the Court
The Family Court of Australia, through its specialist judges and staff, helps Australians to resolve their most complex 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.
The Court's goal is to deliver excellence in service for children, families and parties through effective judicial and non-judicial processes and high-quality and timely judgments, while respecting the needs of separating families.
The purpose of the Court, as Australia's superior court in family law, is to:
- determine cases with the most complex law, facts and parties
- cover specialised areas in family law, and
- provide national coverage as the appellate court in family law matters.
The core services of the Court are those that:
- are prescribed by legislation
- enable and support judges to determine cases, and
- meet duty of care requirements.
The Court's vision provides for:
- putting children and families first in the design and delivery of services
- furthering functional family relationships after separation
- ensuring independence and impartiality in the judicial process
- having staff who are valued for providing quality service for families
- providing quality child dispute services for families, and
- being at the forefront of the development of services.
The Family Court of Australia is a superior court of record and deals with more complex matters. These may include, for example:
- Parenting cases including those that involve a child welfare agency and/or allegations of sexual abuse or serious physical abuse of a child (Magellan cases); family violence and/ or mental health issues with other complexities; multiple parties; complex cases where orders sought would have the effect of preventing a parent from communicating with or spending time with a child; multiple expert witnesses; complex questions of law and/or special jurisdictional issues; international child abduction under the Hague Convention; special medical procedures; and/or international relocation.
- Financial cases that involve multiple parties, valuation of complex interests in trust or corporate structures, including minority interests, multiple expert witnesses, complex questions of law and/or jurisdictional issues (including accrued jurisdiction) or complex issues concerning superannuation (such as complex valuations of defined benefit superannuation schemes).
The Court also has original jurisdiction under certain Commonwealth Acts, including the:
- Marriage Act 1961
- Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988
- Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989, and
- Bankruptcy Act 1966.
Portfolio Budget Statements outcome and program
The Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia FMA Act Agencies were merged into a single FMA Act Agency from 1 July 2013, known as the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court.
The outcome and program framework of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court sets out the agency's commitments to the Government. Each year, details of the framework are outlined in the Portfolio Budget Statements, along with relevant performance information. Government outcomes are the intended results, impacts or consequences of actions by the Government on the Australian community. Agencies deliver programs that are government actions taken to deliver the stated outcomes. Agencies are required to identify the programs that contribute to government outcomes over the Budget and forward years.
The outcome of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court is described below:
Provide access to justice for litigants in family and federal law matters within the jurisdiction of the courts through the provision of judicial and support services.
The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court has a single program under which all services are provided:
Family Court and Federal Circuit Court
The program objectives for the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court are managed via three separate components:
- Family Court of Australia
- The objective of the Family Court of Australia is to support Australian families involved in complex family disputes by deciding matters according to the law, promptly, courteously and effectively. This involves:
- providing decisions in complex family disputes for separating Australian couples and families through the determination of matters, and
- providing national coverage as the appellate court in family law matters.
- The objective of the Family Court of Australia is to support Australian families involved in complex family disputes by deciding matters according to the law, promptly, courteously and effectively. This involves:
- Federal Circuit Court of Australia
- The objective of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia is to provide a simple and accessible alternative to litigation in the Family Court and Federal Court.
- Where practical, parties are encouraged to resolve their disputes through dispute resolution and negotiation methods.
- Family Court and Federal Circuit Court administration
- The objective of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court administration is to assist the courts to achieve their stated purpose by:
- maintaining an environment that enables judicial officers to make determinations
- providing effective and efficient registry services
- effectively and efficiently managing resources, and
- providing effective information and communication technologies.
- The objective of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court administration is to assist the courts to achieve their stated purpose by:
Deliverables and key performance indicators
The deliverables and key performance indicators associated with each component encompass core service standards for judicial services and client services (that is, the family law registries, where people attend in person, and the National Enquiry Centre, the first point of contact for telephone and email enquiries).
Although a single agency for the purposes of the FMA Act, the Family Court of Australia remains a separate Chapter III Court under the Australian Constitution and the deliverables and Key Performance Indicators applicable to the Court, as identified in the 2013–14 Portfolio Budget Statements are shown on the next page.
Judicial services KPIs
|Judicial services deliverables||Goal (total number for 2013–14)|
|Final order finalisations||3000|
|Interim order finalisations||3600|
|Consent order finalisations||10,700|
|Registries and NEC deliverables||Goal (total number for 2013–14)|
|Counter enquiries (registries)||187,400|
|Telephone enquiries served (NEC)||238,400|
|Email enquiries (NEC)||83,600|
Key performance indicators
|Judicial services deliverables||Target|
|Clearance rate (final orders)||100%|
|Cases pending conclusion that are less than 12 months old||75%|
|Reserved judgments are waiting less than three months after the conclusion of the trial||75%|
|Number of complaints as a percentage of applications received||1%|
|Registries and NEC KPIs||Goal (total number for year)|
|Counter enquiries served within 20 minutes (registries)||75%|
|Applications lodged processed within two working days (registries)||75%|
|Telephone enquiries answered within 90 seconds (NEC)||80%|
|Email enquiries responded to within two working days (NEC)||80%|
|Number of complaints as a percentage of applications received||1% across judicial and client services|
Strategic initiatives in the Portfolio Budget Statements
- Family Violence Action Plan developed
- New and updated functionality introduced in Casetrack
- Introduction of Live Chat on the Court's website
- New YouTube channel
- Q-Flow data now available on the Court's website, providing wait times in the registries in real time
- A 30 per cent increase in the number of registered users of the Commonwealth Courts Portal.
During 2013–14 there were a number of initiatives undertaken by Child Dispute Services to ensure that family violence remains an area that is appropriately canvassed by the clinical staff working for the courts. These initiatives include:
The seminar series is a monthly cycle of presentations given by Australian and international experts on family law issues. Attendees include internal family consultants, judges, Reg 7 family consultants, and family law practitioners. During 2013–14, there were various presentations on family violence (including child maltreatment) in an effort to ensure that clinical staff are kept abreast of the latest empirical and practice trends in this area. The next session on family violence will be delivered by forensic psychologist Dr Chris Lennings in September 2014 at the Sydney registry. It will also be available via video link to all other court registries.
Risk screening tool
Child Dispute Services has embarked on a complete review of the process of screening for family violence risk when litigants undertake assessments with family consultants. This has involved adapting the Mediators Assessment of Safety Issues and Concerns – Second Edition (MASIC-2) to a court context, in collaboration with the international authors of the original screening tool. Child Dispute Services has elected to pursue a court-specific version of a tool that emphasises behavioural assessment of risk, rather than more subjective (general) descriptors that tend to be included in many risk assessment tools examining family violence. There are also ongoing discussions about the possibility of parents completing this electronically prior to their initial interviews with a family consultant.
Clinical induction program
All new family consultants are required to undertake a rigorous clinical induction program. This involves attending a series of training sessions via video link during the first six months of their tenure with the Court, and completion of a presentation to their colleagues on a given topic. Family violence is addressed in several of these induction sessions, allowing another pathway via which clinicians at the Court can update their knowledge about the assessment and reporting of family violence.
Clinical training modules
During 2013–14, several family violence clinical training modules were developed and delivered to family consultants around the country. These modules (three x 90 minutes) arose from a research project conducted by the Principal, Child Dispute Services and the Senior Family Consultant (National Professional Development), which explored changes to clinical practice subsequent to the 2012 amendments. The modules focus on professional biases that may influence practice (particularly in the assessment of family violence), ways in which bias and individual attitudes can be contained, and critiquing one's own written reports to ensure that family violence has been appropriately portrayed.
The family violence reforms contained in the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2011 (Cth) commenced on 7 June 2012. A study was conducted in 2013 to explore whether the family violence reforms had increased family consultants' awareness and reporting of allegations of family violence in parenting matters. It also explored whether family consultants were considering the impact of family violence on children and families and whether their recommendations in their documents had the potential to better protect children and families from family violence. A report on the study titled On the Crest of a Wave is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
International Framework for Court Excellence
The Chief Justice has committed the Family Court of Australia to implementing the International Framework of Court Excellence (the framework).2
The Court has embarked on this work in complex and challenging conditions. Not least among those include competition for scarce public resources; continuing community demand for high quality service; greater requirements for accountability and transparency; and the prospect of structural change for the federal courts.3 In this context, deep consideration of the Court's functioning and constructive implementation of change to ensure that the Court is a marker for excellence could not be more timely.
Early in 2013, the Chief Justice formed the Court Excellence Committee. The Committee is chaired by Justice Murphy and comprises Justices Finn, Cronin, Austin and Loughnan with support from Regional Registry Manager, Jane Reynolds.
In 2013, the Court completed a comprehensive internal survey of all judges and staff to obtain a robust 'self -assessment' of the Court's functioning against the principles promoted in this framework.
The judicial response to the survey was overwhelming, with all but one of the Court's judges completing the survey. The comments made by judges showed careful thought and a commitment to working together to achieve a truly excellent court.
Additionally, court staff were surveyed again, with an excellent response rate. Feedback from staff has also been valuable in informing the Committee's work. The survey considered such matters as: leadership; governance; strategic directions; policy; services to the community; case management; access; and public confidence. The survey results were subject to consultation and moderation with the judges.
The recommendations of the Court Excellence Committee will be contained in a report to be presented to the Chief Justice and the judges early in the new financial year.
Enhancing service to court users through information technology
In response to the ongoing financial pressures and changing community expectations of online services, as well as the need to improve efficiency and support to the judiciary and staff, the courts' administration has developed a number of initiatives to enhance current eFiling and IT services to court users, the judiciary and staff.
The Registry Services Information, Technology and Communications (ICT) Priorities Statement, developed in consultation with the registry services and information technology divisions of the courts, provides high level direction and priorities for these e-service initiatives. The statement aims to assist the courts to transform services over time through extensive engagement with the judiciary, court users and staff. Electronic divorce and electronic storage of court records will be explored within this program.
Casetrack is the courts' case management system introduced in 2002. A major enhancement is currently underway to improve its useability. The changes will introduce new and updated functionality, including a modern browser-based technology that provides a simplified approach to managing the work done in chambers and in other areas of the courts' operations. The first new module was implemented in March 2014 and was specifically designed to simplify the way chambers manage their dockets. Further modules are now under development.
Access to Live Chat is now available via the courts' websites. Live Chat enables a party using the website to chat online to a staff member at the National Enquiry Centre (NEC) to ask procedural questions about filing in the family law system. They can also chat online if they have any queries about eFiling on the Commonwealth Courts Portal.
Currently, clients can chat with the NEC about issues such as:
- eFiling, and
Live Chat is a cost effective and easily manageable channel of communication for the courts. Staff can multi-task and manage up to four conversations at once. It also provides a convenient way for clients to access the courts and engage with client service officers. Clients can continue browsing the website and easily view online content while chatting.
At 30 June 2014 the NEC was averaging 120 Live Chats per day.
The Family Court's Twitter account was launched in October 2012 at the National Family Law Conference in Hobart. The Twitter account provides information, useful links and updates to followers. It has been used to welcome judicial officers as well as inform followers of court initiatives like the Young Employees Advisory Group.
As at 30 June 2014, the account had over 1125 followers, predominately made up of legal professionals, law students, journalists and members of the general public. The Court tweeted 221 times during 2013–14.
The Family Court's Twitter account forms part of a wider focus on providing information to stakeholders in timely and relevant ways. Follow the Court on Twitter @FamilyCourtAU
The courts have created YouTube channels to provide information to clients in a different way to the usual form or fact sheet. Videos currently available include:
- How to apply for a divorce: serving divorce papers
- The Commonwealth Courts Portal
- Islamic family law in Australia book launch.
Visit the Family Court's YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/familycourtAU
Infrastructure to support Internet Protocol (IP) videoconferencing was implemented across the courts in the second half of 2012–13. Further upgrades were carried out during 2013–14, including upgrading the equipment in the Adelaide registry courtrooms. The new equipment allows videoconferences between registries to be conducted for free because the videoconference content is now being carried over the courts' IP network instead of expensive external ISDN lines.
Fixed units have been installed in many courtrooms which are fully integrated with sound reinforcement and court transcript recording systems, while portable units, which offer high quality video and sound, are also available at every registry. The uptake of videoconferencing has increased rapidly for inter-registry links, as managers are finding this a more effective and cheaper solution for multi-site meetings, rather than the traditional telephone conference calls or travel.
From 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014 videoconferencing usage included:
- 2993 conferences
- 448 multi-party connections
- 2545 ad-hoc (direct, point to point) videoconference connections, and
- 2520 hours of videoconference connections.
Q-Flow statistics on websites
This initiative involves transferring data from the courts' client queue management system (Q-Flow) concerning client service waiting times and the number of clients waiting for service at registry counters to the courts' websites.
This provides lawyers and litigants with a view of wait times in the registry in real time. It informs lawyers and litigants about the best time to visit registries, when demand is lower and they are likely to spend less time waiting. It also assists registry staff in providing a better client service.
This is a small, low cost initiative aimed at improving customer service, providing better visibility for litigants and lawyers regarding wait times, and using our existing resources efficiently and effectively by spreading demand across business hours.
Q-Flow operates at the Adelaide, Brisbane, Dandenong, Melbourne, Parramatta and Sydney registries.
Phase one of the website redevelopment project is now complete. This phase involved detailed user testing and the development of new design prototypes for the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court websites.
Phase two of this project commenced in May 2014.
Phase two will broadly undertake the following:
- migrate the current Family Court and Federal Circuit Court websites to a vendor supported content management platform
- decommission the Family Law Courts website and move that content into the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court websites
- automate, where possible, any unnecessary manual processes with the current content publishing
- implement new business requirements such as workflow, access control etc.
- implement the new information architecture for both websites as identified in Phase one, and
- redesign the presentation layer of the websites in accordance with the high level design specification from Phase one.
A review of all website content will run in parallel with the website rebuild so that content is ready for migration when the build is finished.
The new websites will be more contemporary, with a greater focus on client interaction and e-services. The improved navigation and access and revised content will benefit clients of both courts.
It is expected that Phase two will be completed in February 2015.
Work continued on finalising technical issues associated with the intranet upgrade project. This included:
- development work and extensive testing to the Portal and web content manager (WCM) components which have now been successfully migrated to the production servers
- upgrading and ongoing testing of the search tool in preparation for implementation and configuration
- commencement of content migration – to date over 2000 content items have been migrated
- creation of a content inventory, a migration plan and checklist and training resources in preparation for content authors having access to the new WCM
- completion of Connections integration work, and
- completion of work to enable access from the intranet to Lotus Notes Databases (e.g. judgments).
Some minor outstanding issues still need to be resolved, including implementing a search facility that meets our requirements.
A launch date will be set after all technical issues are resolved.
How the Commonwealth Courts Portal has changed the way Powe and White Family Lawyers do business
Christopher White, solicitor and director of Powe and White Family Lawyers, recently spoke to the Court about how the Portal is used in their law firm and what a difference it has made to how they manage their extensive workload.
Powe and White Family Lawyers is a progressive divorce and family law specialist in the Hunter Valley region. The practice has been using the Portal for several years, originally to view orders and check court dates and events, and more recently to file many of their documents and even commencing proceedings.
Mr White commented that "In an industry where time is money, the Commonwealth Courts Portal provides the profession convenient access to information".
The Portal has changed the way this firm conducts their daily business by allowing for remote access of eFiled documents, which is particularly useful when working after hours. The Portal provides an excellent vehicle to supplement their file management, particularly having the functionality of being able to access court dates and court orders at any time.
Commonwealth Courts Portal
The Commonwealth Courts Portal (www.comcourts.gov.au), launched in July 2007, is a continuing initiative of the Family Court, the Federal Court and the Federal Circuit Court. The Portal provides free web-based access to information about cases that are before these courts.
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.
A popular function of the Portal is the ability for users to elect to be notified of any recent activity on their files. In 2013–14 more than 170,000 such notifications were sent.
During 2013–14 there was a 30 per cent increase in the number of registered users of the Portal.
The eFiling functions continue to be expanded and a number of enhancements were made to the Portal, including:
- additional supplementary documents can now be eFiled
- amended applications can now be eFiled
- a new feature which displays a list of all Orders on a file is now available
- Live Chat link enables parties to chat online with staff at the National Enquiry Centre, and
- a pop up in Casetrack allows staff to automatically create a new Portal registration for a client.
Work has also continued to ensure compliance with version 2.0 Level 'AA' of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines by December 2014. Furthermore, a complete end-to-end usability review of the Portal was commenced with a user experience expert advising on new improved screen designs. Development of these screens will commence in the new financial year. Development to allow eFiling of Application for Consent Orders has continued with a view to having it implemented in 2014–15.
The following statistics highlight the significant growth in the number of Portal users as at 30 June 2014:
- More than 4900 firms now registered (a 20 per cent increase from 30 June 2013).
- Lawyer registrations have increased to almost 10,000 (a 19 per cent increase from 30 June 2013).
- Total registered users exceed 153,000 (a 29.6 per cent increase from 30 June 2013).
Did you know?
- Around 60 new law firms sign up to the Portal every month.
- Almost 20 per cent of logins occur outside of normal working hours.
Table 2.1 Registered users of the Commonwealth Courts Portal, 2010–11 to 2013–14
|30 June 2011||30 June 2012||30 June 2013||30 June 2014|
|Number of law firms registered||2466||3280||4134||4965|
|Number of lawyers registered||5026||6746||8370||9921|
|Total registered users||143,171||143,171||143,171||143,171|
Table 2.2 Documents eFiled in the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court, 2010–11 to 2013–14
In Western Australia there were 6365 documents eFiled during 2013–14.
Over recent years, and in response to the emerging challenging financial position, the courts have separately, and as a combined entity, undertaken significant initiatives to reduce costs and generate efficiencies; however, there are still significant financial pressures upon the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court.
The courts are committed, along with the Government, to continue to examine and implement opportunities within the courts to address these pressures. This includes the courts comprehensively examining options available to transform their operations while still considering access to justice, courts excellence, impacts of family violence, and e-lodgment reforms.
Outlook for 2014–15
In 2014–15, the following may have an impact on the Court and its delivery of services:
- positioning the courts to address ongoing budgetary pressures, particularly from 2014–15 onwards
- implementation of any government decisions arising from the recent review of federal courts funding conducted by KPMG
- implementation of any government decisions arising from the National Commission of Audit report
- revised best practice principles for dealing with family violence, and
- ongoing work concerning the adoption of the International Framework for Court Excellence.
Court service locations
Table 2.3 Family Court of Australia service locations
|AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY|
|Canberra (J, R, FC, CS)|
|NEW SOUTH WALES|
|Albury (CS, RC), Armidale (RC, FamC), Coffs Harbour (JC, RC), Dubbo (CS, JC, RC, FC), Lismore (CS, JC, RC), Newcastle (J, R, FC, CS), Orange (JC), Parramatta (J, R, FC, CS), Port Macquarie (RC), Sydney (J, R, FC, CS), Tamworth (RC), Wollongong (R, CS)|
|Alice Springs (CS), Darwin (CS, JC, RC, FC)|
|Brisbane (J, R, FC, CS), Cairns (R, FC, CS, JC), Mackay(JC, RC, FamC), Rockhampton(CS, JC, RC, FamC), Townsville (J, R, FC, CS),|
|Adelaide (J, R, FC, CS)|
|Devonport (RC), Hobart (J, R, FC, CS), Launceston (CS, FC, JC, RC, FC),|
|Ballarat (RC), Bendigo (RC), Dandenong (R, FC, CS), Geelong (RC), Hamilton (RC), Melbourne (J, R, FC, CS), Mildura (RC), Morwell (RC), Shepparton (RC), Warrnambool (RC)|
|J – Judge
R – Registrar
FC – Family Consultant
CS – Client Services
JC – Judicial Circuit
RC – Registrar Circuit
FamC – Family Consultant Circuit
Access and inclusion framework
The Court's Access and Equity Framework (the Framework) was developed to guide the preparation and implementation of access and equity plans. Each access and equity plan aims to improve access and remove barriers to the courts' services for particular client groups. Plans under the Framework include the multicultural, family violence, disability, mental health and Indigenous plans.
The Framework is primarily focused on the administrative work of the courts, recognising that access to justice begins well before a client has their first court event and that a client's capacity to participate in court processes is significantly influenced by the quality of information and level of administrative support they receive. Linking to the International Framework for Court Excellence, the Framework has the primary purpose of ensuring the courts meet their access and equity obligations, that plans are consistent and that implementation is coordinated.
The courts' multicultural, Indigenous and family violence plans have been developed and are currently being implemented. Work has commenced to develop the disability and mental health action plans. All implementation activities recognise the budgetary constraints and have relied upon innovation and the expertise of existing staff.
The Multicultural Plan was developed in response to a Commonwealth Government requirement that all agencies develop such a plan. As part of the plan's development, the courts engaged Maria Dimopoulos of Myriad Consulting to undertake a comprehensive review of multicultural access and equity. The review's findings and recommendations have informed the projects implemented under the plan.
The following provides highlights of projects improving access and equity for the courts' culturally and linguistically diverse clients. These have occurred in addition to work undertaken to improve services at a local registry level.
Community language allowance project
The courts' new Community Language Allowance Policy aims to better encourage staff who have another language, and who have regular client contact, to develop and use their language skills at the counter and over the telephone. Under the new policy, eligible staff are paid to achieve and maintain their National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) or equivalent qualifications. For the courts' many culturally and linguistically diverse clients, this is one step toward overcoming the language barriers that may prevent them from fully accessing our services and justice.
Plain English and translations
The courts now provide links to the LawTermFinder (http://lawtermfinder.mq.edu.au/) on the courts' websites and in emails sent to clients. The LawTermFinder provides a consistent and maintained source of plain English and translated (Arabic, Vietnamese, Simplified and Traditional Chinese) definitions of family law terms. LawTermFinder is joint project between the Federal Attorney-General's Department and Macquarie University.
Ethnic naming practices project
Through collaboration with the Department of Human Services (DHS), court staff now have intranet access to DHS's online guide to ethnic naming practices. Covering the naming conventions of 66 languages, including some from newly emerging Australian communities, the guide provides information on:
- the order in which a name appears
- how children are named
- if and how a woman's name changes after marriage, divorce or death of a partner, and
- pronunciation of names.
This guide is particularly helpful for counter staff, staff at the National Enquiry Centre and court officers who have frequent contact with culturally diverse clients.
Cultural competence and the e-learning project
The cultural competence e-learning project aims to provide staff with the knowledge, skills and awareness needed to work competently with culturally diverse clients across a range of service scenarios. The courts are working with DHS and the Western Australian Office of Multicultural Affairs to adapt an existing e-learning program to deliver training within the courts.
Work on a range of other projects has progressed, including work on an e-learning induction training package on the use of interpreters and translators and the identification of high priority publications and forms for translation.
Meetings were held with a wide range of community organisations on the issue of forced marriage, with the outcome being that the courts are now tapped into, and provide information to, an Attorney-General's Department (AGD) working group who are developing forced marriage resources.
The courts were recognised at the Migration Council of Australia's Award night, winning the Diversity and the Law Award for ongoing commitment to multiculturalism through the Living in Harmony Initiative, Integrated Client Service Delivery Program and the Multicultural Plan. See page 49 for more information.
Family Violence Plan
In 2013–14, the courts developed a joint Family Violence Action Plan. This is a significant piece of work, involving an audit of policies and programs developed in other courts (nationally and internationally) to respond to family violence in the context of family law disputes. The plan involved a comprehensive consultation process with internal and external stakeholders. It is anticipated that the work under this initiative will constitute the Family Violence Committee's major project in the 2014–15 financial year.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Plan
The Family Court has a long history in promoting and improving access to justice for Indigenous families dating back to 1993. In 2004 it developed the Family Court Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Plan and an Indigenous Plan for 2010 to 2013.
In 2013 the Chief Justice set up the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Outreach Committee to ensure that the Court's administration and judiciary work hand in hand to enable and facilitate participation of Indigenous Australians in court processes.
The Court has consulted widely with Indigenous people and through its Indigenous Plan 2014–2016, has identified and sought to make its services more responsive to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.
Some of the measures adopted by the Family Court include cross-cultural education for judicial officers, registrars and family consultants within the Court; the creation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander positions; the provision of appropriate information and referrals, and the continued development of relationships with key organisations and elders in the community.
At present the Court is developing a Reconciliation Action Plan and is responding to the recommendation of the Family Law Council's 2012 report on improving the family law system for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients.
Statement of Strategic Intent
In August 2013, the updated statement of strategic intent was released to reflect the challenges and priorities for 2013–14. The most recent version of the statement built on the work in the original release in July 2012 to ensure the areas of focus remained relevant.
The priority actions for 2013–14 were as follows:
- Provide input, advice and leadership into the AGD led review of the courts.
- Advance and integrate the seven key areas in the International Framework for Court Excellence and assist the courts in the development of their strategic plans.
- Manage services and implement ongoing savings measures in support of our budget provision and determine priorities and any cost saving measures with the Heads of Jurisdictions, including possible restructure of the service model and/or funding arrangements.
- Implement recommendations from the Federal Circuit Court's Reconciliation Action Plan
- Implement changes arising from the family violence amendments that were implemented in 2012, and through the Family Violence Committee, prepare the courts' family violence strategy for 2014–16.
- Advance the development of an electronic court file and electronic self-help services for court users for less complex enquiries/transactions.
- Progress the development of new methods of payment that reduce processing for client service staff as soon as practicable and optimise fee collections and debt recovery at an administrative level.
- Continue to implement projects responding to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia name change and to the legislative change formalising the creation of the single administration.
- Implement appropriate systems to enable the single administration.
- Conduct the next instalment of the Family Law User Satisfaction Survey so that we are continually reviewing and improving our services for court users and report any resulting improvement initiatives to court users.
- Deliver staff development, succession planning, workforce planning and other initiatives to ensure that we have people capable and ready for future demands and our people are well supported.
Young Employees Advisory Group
(L–R standing): Steve Agnew, Jillian Morrison, Katharine Garaty, Claire McFadden, Sarah Dupe, Richard Foster, Ebony Pilon, Rosemary Brett, Sienna Moore, Leah Reid, Lisa Clark and Drew Baker. (L–R seated): Elizabeth Pane, Sally Bastick, Stephanie Page, Jaime-Lee Simons, Nina McKeon and Dan Snow.
The final meeting for the 2013 YEAG took place in Canberra on 12 and 13 November 2013, wrapping up a busy year for the four project groups. The groups presented their final reports on their projects to the Chief Executive Officer's Management Advisory Group.
All of the groups worked tirelessly during 2013 and managed the following outcomes:
Reviewed and revised a number of pages on the Family Court, Federal Circuit Court and Family Law Courts websites to better tailor them to the needs of unrepresented litigants.
Managed the production of a short, instructional video on divorce service that is now available to the public on YouTube (see page 31 for more information).
Conceived and ran a successful pilot of a staff recognition award at the National Support Office.
Education and exchange
Created an exchange program with the ACT state courts that is set to take place in Canberra in 2014. The group also organised an internship program with Melbourne universities that will commence in 2014.
Client Service Senior Manager's Group
Chaired by the Director Court Services, Strategy and Policy, the Client Service Senior Manager's Group (CSSMG) comprises registry managers and registry and judicial service managers from the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. The group aims to be innovative in the development of new ideas and seeks 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 video-link six-weekly and uses the courts' Connections technology through a CSSMG community. Through this community, members can discuss issues, provide reports, post blogs and upload files for discussion within the group.
CSSMG was involved in several priority projects during 2013–14 including:
- the simplification and streamlining of photocopying and fee processing for clients seeking copies of orders or divorce certificates
- the internal review of outstanding setting down and trial fees, which has led to greater compliance and system enhancements
- the authorisation for staff to administer oaths and affirmations
- the review of mail and courier processes to ensure the most efficient and cost effective method is being used, and
- the ongoing exploration of eFiling procedures to ensure that the most efficient use of the technology is being implemented in response to the growth in eFiling.
There are other initiatives that are still under development, which will be implemented in the next financial year.
New standards of practice for family assessments and reporting
Family reports are a very important tool to assist in resolving or determining disputes over children, and judges often rely heavily on the assessments in family reports as evidence. Consequently there are often many questions and issues that clients and the legal profession have about the quality and validity of the family reports and how the assessments are conducted.
In Australia there has, until now, not been any public document designed to inform the judiciary, the legal profession or the clients as to what can be expected as the minimum standards in the process of preparing family reports.
In order to address this issue, the Court has drafted the Australian Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting, basing the principles on the existing practice guidelines for Child Dispute Services and similar documents from overseas, such as the guidelines produced by the United States-based Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC). The Australian Standards address the local context and assessment of such important issues as family violence, cultural issues and issues for Indigenous clients.
The Australian Standards promote good practices in conducting and reporting on full family assessments by social workers and psychologists in family law matters, such as those completed under s65G of the Family Law Act and family reports commissioned privately.
- provide information to the judiciary, agencies, legal professionals and clients who utilise the services of family assessors to increase the understanding as to what constitutes good practice in family assessments and reporting
- inform as to what can be expected as a minimum standard of practice when conducting family assessments and preparing reports, and
- address some common issues and concerns about family assessments and the processes of assessments and reporting, such as whether psychometric testing or home visits should be part of the assessment process.
The draft Standards have been through an initial round of consultation with internal and external social science stakeholders and were widely supported. Feedback from these consultations has been incorporated into a second draft and consultations are now proceeding on this with peak legal bodies in the family law area. It is planned to present the final version of the Standards at the first conference of the newly formed Australian chapter of the AFCC in Melbourne in August 2014.
Overall it is hoped this initiative of the courts will lead to a more informed community, fewer complaints based on misunderstandings, and a higher standard in the reports completed across the whole sector.
Child Dispute Services fact sheets
Six new Child Dispute Services (CDS) fact sheets were developed to assist in matters where children are involved. They include:
- Family Reports
- Child Dispute Conferences
- Child Inclusive Conferences
- The Child Responsive Program
- Exposure to family violence and its effect on children, and
- Parental conflict and its effect on children.
These fact sheets are available on the Family Law Courts website under Family Violence > Child Dispute Services. Several more new CDS fact sheets will be released early in 2014–15.
Connections has continued to provide a forum for planning activities and projects as well as supporting communication and collaboration across the courts.
Key achievements in 2013–14 include:
- growth in the number of communities from 128 at 30 June 2013, to 143 at 30 June 2014
- commencement of work on creating a court-wide wiki to support the work of client services. Wikis provide a centralised platform to share information and to date have been utilised as knowledge bases for professional development, procedures and training materials as well as supporting day-to-day operations across the courts, and
- work on integrating the profiles, wikis and blog applications with the courts' intranets has been completed and will be available to staff when the new intranets are launched.
Replacement of BlackBerry fleet
During 2013–14 the courts made a decision to move away from BlackBerry devices and replace them with Apple iPhone smartphones. At the same time a further decision was made to implement a Bring Your Own Device Policy which allows users to access their corporate email and calendar via their personal device. There are 250 BlackBerry devices to replace and the first tranche of 50 devices has now been implemented. The remaining devices will be replaced in 2014–15. The new devices are being used in conjunction with Good Software for email and calendar services.
During 2013–14 much of the courts' IT infrastructure was upgraded including new server and networking equipment in all registries apart from Darwin and Alice Springs which will be completed in 2014–15.
Other infrastructure improvements in the financial year included:
- 1450 desktop PCs and 200 notebook computers were upgraded to Windows 7 and Office 2010 to take full advantage of the new hardware rolled out in 2013
- a new WAN contract which will deliver increased bandwidth was successfully negotiated and is awaiting signature by the Attorney-General before it can be implemented
- work has commenced on moving to a new Internet Gateway
- a review of Citrix is currently underway to look at options to improve performance, and
- LAN cabling was upgraded in several registries.
Community relationships and consultation
Registry managers of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court assist the Court with community relationship building. Much of this work is done at the local level. Engagement with local communities, community-based organisations concerned with family support and the family law system, community forums, law societies, family law pathway networks, volunteer networks and other government agencies, including many at the State level, are something that the Court has been reporting in some detail in recent years in an appendix to the annual report.
The reporting shows that different registries take different approaches, reflecting local needs and opportunities and capacity for action. Activities are highlighted in Appendix 9.
2014 Australian Migration and Settlement Awards – Diversity and the Law Award
Senator Penny Wong, Li Cunxin, Leisha Lister and Chief Justice Diana Bryant at the presentation of the Diversity and the Law award.
In March 2014, at a function at Parliament House in Canberra, the courts were awarded the 2014 Migration and Settlement Award under the category of Diversity and the Law.
The Chief Justice accepted the award and acknowledged the contribution by staff who continuously provide front line services to our culturally diverse community in an ever changing and uncertain environment.
The Award was recognition for our past, present and ongoing contribution to providing access to justice in the area of diversity and the law and in particular, the work of the Family Court's administration dating back to 2002.
The nomination referred to the following:
- the ground breaking community consultation established by the Honourable Alastair Nicholson, former Chief Justice of the Family Court, and the first National Cultural Diversity Plan in 2004 by the Cultural Diversity Committee chaired by the Honourable Nahum Mushin, former Justice of the Court
- the Living in Harmony program, which involved partnerships between the Family Court and communities from the Horn of Africa, and
- the incorporation of our learnings from the Living in Harmony Project into staff training through the Mental Health Support Project and in particular, the Integrated Client Service Delivery Project which focussed on cultural awareness training for all staff.
The recent work on the courts' Multicultural Plan (2013–15) developed in partnership with the Federal Circuit Court, was also mentioned.
The Migration and Settlement, Law and Justice Award is presented to an organisation or individual who has worked to raise awareness of social and justice systems among new migrants and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice
(L–R): Greg Moriaty, Australian Ambassador to Indonesia; Chief Justice Bryant AO; the Honourable Dr Hatta Ali SH MH, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Indonesia; and Chief Justice James Allsop AO, Federal Court of Australia.
Funded by the Australian Government through Australian Aid since 2008, the partnership, under a court-to-court Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Family Court and the Supreme Court of Indonesia, continues to provide a firm foundation for a unique and mutually beneficial relationship between the independent judiciaries of the two neighbouring democratic countries. The MOU has enabled courts in both countries to share experiences regarding access to justice, enhance judicial capacity and improve court business processes.
Over the last decade the collaboration between the Family Court of Australia and the Supreme Court of Indonesia has focussed on three major research undertakings culminating in widely circulated publications in 2008, 2010 and most recently in February 2014. For more information see the Family Court website at www.familycourt.gov.au > About the Court > International Programs > Indonesia.
The research, supported by successive Australian Government Law and Justice Programs, identified barriers faced by women who are poor in accessing the courts for their marriage legalisation and divorce cases. This research and the Supreme Court of Indonesia's access to justice initiatives being implemented in the Religious Courts, have been highlighted in a number of international publications including:
- 2011 Progress of the World's Women report produced by UN Women, and
- 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development.
The policy reforms emanating from the research and introduced by the Supreme Court, have had a significant impact on the ability of women, the poor and those living in remote areas to access the Religious Courts for their legal identity cases. In fact so much so that since 2009, the Religious Courts have:
- doubled the number of cases heard at a circuit court at village level, a total of more than 23,000 cases in 2012
- more than tripled the number of marriage legalisation cases conducted in the 359 Religious Courts across the country
- quadrupled the number of cases brought by the poor in which the court fee is waived. A total of more than 12,000 court fee waivers in 2012, and
- doubled the number of women bringing cases to the Religious Courts of Indonesia to more than 250,000 in 2013.
Access to the courts in family law and legal identity matters is critical to supporting broader human rights for individuals. Guaranteeing people's access to a legal identity is not only essential in order to comply with human rights principles, but it is also a fundamental aspect of good governance and inclusive development.
On 24 June 2014, the most recent MOU annex was signed between the Family Court of Australia, the Federal Court of Australia and the Supreme Court of Indonesia. The areas of cooperation between the Indonesian and Australian courts have been developed in line with the Indonesian Court's Blueprint for Reform 2010–2035, which is in accordance with the Court Excellence Framework. The Blueprint continues to address reform initiatives at the level of the Indonesian Supreme Court and the jurisdictions that it supervises (the General Courts, Religious Courts, Administrative Courts and Military Courts).
The following key areas of cooperation have been agreed upon for 2014–2016:
- Affordable and accessible court services (mediation)
In 2013–14, the Supreme Court and the Family Court worked together on improving court services and proceedings through capacity building of mediation techniques. The focus of the cooperation was on promoting a mediation process in family law cases that is effective, efficient, sensitive to court user needs (especially women, children and persons with disabilities) and encourages timely decision making in relation to family law cases, child custody and division of assets.
Supreme Court Regulation No.1/2008 outlines general mediation procedures applicable in all civil matters. Following its implementation, it has become apparent that mediation in family matters requires particular consideration and regulation. This includes, for example, determining the aims and objectives for mediation, measuring the success of mediation and accrediting mediators. The Family Court has, for many years, worked on refining and developing a framework within which specialised family matter mediators operate.
In 2014 and beyond, the Family Court will support the Supreme Court's work on mediation in family matters in Indonesia, through and under the direction of the Supreme Court's Mediation Working Group. In particular, the two courts will work together to refine and develop a more tailored mediation procedure for family matters, including policy development, capacity building and monitoring and evaluation.
- Improved client service delivery and information to clients
The Family Court and the Supreme Court have worked together to strengthen the delivery of affordable and accessible court services for a number of years. This has included a baseline survey in the field of family law and birth certificates conducted in the General and Religious Courts (2007–2009) measuring (i) client satisfaction with the family court services provided; and (ii) the ability of women living under the Indonesian poverty line to access the courts for their family law/legal identity matters. This was followed by a baseline study on legal identity, Indonesia's Missing Millions in 2014. The Family Court contributed as one of several partners to this research.
The cooperation will continue to focus on enhancing and broadening access to the courts in family matters (such as marriage and divorce certificates) for women, the poor, those living in remote areas and other marginalised groups. This will include:
- continued support to improve client services and the quality of information provided by court staff through the refinement of the existing platform and the development of modules based on the face-to-face training undertaken from 2011 to 2013
- strengthened delivery of services to the justice seekers through court fee waivers, circuit court hearings and legal aid posts in courts
- support to implement a referrals system, including computer application systems, so that justice seekers can obtain information on how to access a range of legal and social services when they bring their cases to court. This will be followed by the development of learning and training modules in this field, both by traditional and more modern means such as e-learning, social media, etc.
- support documentation and research to broaden understanding of the improvements in access to the Indonesian courts, to better enable the public to realise rights to accessible and affordable family law and legal identity services. This will focus on demonstrating the benefits to Indonesian citizens of legal birth, marriage and divorce certificates for obtaining legal identity documents, and accessing government services and poverty alleviation programs.
Student at Madrasah Tsanawiyah Swasta, MPI Bagan Asahan, Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra, holding the AIPJ Baseline Study on Legal Identity: Indonesia’s Missing Millions published in February 2014.
In addition to the above, the Court's work continued to be recognised internationally. Official visitors also attended from Hong Kong, Indonesia, Kenya, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan.
Appendix 11 contains more information about each of the delegations.
3 The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department commissioned consulting firm KPMG to review the Court's resources and advise on structural arrangements. At the time of writing, the consultants' final report had been submitted to the Attorney-General, The Hon. Senator Brandis, for decision.