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

12,953 consent orders FINALISED

356,004 TELEPHONE enquiries

255,792 COUNTER enquiries

Outcome and program

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court has one outcome and one program on which it reports in 2013–14. See Figure 3.1.

Figure 3.1 The outcome and program of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court

Outcome 1 Provide access to justice for litigants in family and federal law matters within the jurisdiction of the courts through the provision of judicial support services.
Program 1.1 Family Court and Federal Circuit 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 2013–14.

Historic performance against KPIs

The Family Court has eight key performance indicators (KPIs) for the general division, against which it has reported for the past five years to 2013–14. Table 3.1 shows the results of each of those years.

Table 3.1 Summary of performance against all KPIs targets from 2009–10 to 2013–14

Key Performance Indicators/target 2009–10 result 2010–11 result 2011–12 result 2012–13 result 2013–14 result
Clearance rate more than 100% 100% 104% 100% 101% 98%
75% of matters pending conclusion are less than 12 months old 72% 70% 73% 70% 73%
75% of reserved judgments are waiting less than three months after the conclusion of trial 46% 73% 50% 51% 50%
75% of all counter enquiries are served within 20 minutes 90% 97% 88% 93% 92%
75% of applications lodged are processed within two working days 96% 97% 97% 97% 98%
80% of calls answered within 90 seconds (NEC only) 40% 32% 33% 21% 28%
80% of emails answered within two days (NEC data only) 91% 98% 100% 100% 100%
Complaints—1% of total applications received 1% 2% 0.6% 0.9% 0.4%
Number of KPI/targets achieved 5 4 5 5 4

The Court has, for the previous four 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. This year the Court achieved 98 per cent despite achieving a seven per cent increase in finalisations during the year, but this was offset by an unexpected 10 per cent increase in filings resulting in more cases starting than could be finalised. The fact that general division judges are being allocated to sit on the Appeal Division may also have an impact, together with the retirement of a judge in Sydney who has not been replaced.

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 effect 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 support for 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 2013–14 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 workload and 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. These applications are generally dealt with by registrars exercising delegated powers.

Summary of performance

In 2013–14, the Court achieved two judicial key performance indicators and deliverables and was unable to achieve five.

Table 3.2 summarises the Court's results in delivering judicial services against the key performance indicators and deliverables published in the 2013–14 Portfolio Budget Statements.

Table 3.2 Summary of performance—judicial services

Key performance indicators and deliverables Target/deliverable 2012–13 target 2012–13 result 2013–14 target 2013–14 result 2013–14 target achieved
Deliverables            
Number of finalisations per annum Final order finalisations 3400 3067 3000 2890
Interim order finalisations 3800 3419 3600 3224
Consent order finalisations 10,700 11,238 10,700 12,953
Other order finalisations* 300 303 300 324
KPIs**            
Clearance rate 100% 100% 101% 100% 98%
Backlog indicators More than 75% of matters pending conclusion are less than 12 months old 75% 70% 75% 73%
More than 75% of reserved judgments are waiting less than three months after the conclusion of trial 75% 51% 75% 50%

* 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 2013–14

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.

Figure 3.2 and Figure 3.3 show the new caseload during 2013–14.

Figure 3.2 Applications filed, 2013–14

Application Filed %
Final orders applications 2923 15%
Application in a case (Interim) 3416 17%
Consent orders applications 12,988 66%
Other applications 324 2%
Total 19,651 100%

This figure shows the type of applications filed in 2013–14.

Figure 3.3 Issues sought on Final Order cases, 2013–14

Issues sought on Applications for Final Orders
Parenting only 33%
Financial only 52%
Parenting and financial 14%
Other 1%

This figure shows the issues sought on Final Order cases in 2013–14.

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 2013–14, 16.4 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, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the attrition and settlement trend in the Court’s caseload from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

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 2013–14, 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, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the number of cases finalised at first instance trial from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Number of finalisations

During 2013–14, the Court had the following finalisation deliverables it expected to obtain:

  • 3000 final order cases
  • 3600 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 2013–14, 2890 applications for final orders were finalised, about 3.7 per cent below the target and 5.8 per cent less than in 2012–13.

Applications in a case (interim)

During 2013–14, 3224 applications in a case were finalised, about 10 per cent less than the target and 5.7 per cent less than in 2012–13. These applications are associated with an existing case and typically can be dealt with relatively quickly.

Consent orders

During 2013–14, 12,953 applications for consent orders were finalised, which is 21 per cent more than the target and 15.3 per cent more than were finalised in 2012–13. Although the parties to the application agree to terms of the proposed order, the applications vary in complexity and require detailed consideration. These applications are determined by registrars in chambers.

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

Figure 3.6 Final orders applications, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the number of final orders applications from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Figure 3.7 Applications in a case, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the number of applications in a case from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Figure 3.8 Consent orders applications, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the number of consent orders applications from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Figure 3.9 All applications, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the trend in all applications from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

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 2013–14, the Court achieved a clearance rate of 98 per cent.

Figure 3.10 shows the five year trend in clearance rates.

Figure 3.10 All applications, clearance rates, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the clearance rate in all applications from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

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 there is a steady level of workload to manage while new cases commence and those 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 2014, the Court nearly met this target by achieving 73 per cent of pending applications being less than 12 months old, compared with 70 per cent at 30 June 2013.

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

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

Figure 3.11 Age of pending applications, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the age of pending applications from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Figure 3.12 All applications, time pending, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the time pending in all applications from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

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 2013–14, with only 51 per cent of judgments at 30 June 2014 less than three months old; therefore 49 per cent were more than three months. Typically the Court will have only a relatively small number of reserved judgments waiting to be delivered. At 30 June 2014 the Court had 147 such reserved judgments outstanding.

This measure is misleading because the figure is not reflective of the timeliness of judgments delivered throughout the whole year (77 per cent within three months) because it is a snapshot of judgments outstanding at 30 June 2014.

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 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the reserved judgments outstanding (pending) less than three months, as at 30 June 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Figure 3.14 Time for reserved judgments outstanding (pending), at 30 June 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the time for reserved judgments outstanding (pending), at 30 June 2009–10 to 2013–14.

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.

During 2013–14 the Court finalised about 93 per cent of cases (applications) within 12 months which is above the target and remains steady for the past five years.

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

Figure 3.15 Applications finalised within 12 months, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the applications finalised within 12 months, from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Figure 3.16 All applications, time to finalise, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the time to finalise all applications, from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

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 2013–14 as 463 (77 per cent) of the 598 reserved judgments (excluding judgments on appeal cases) were delivered within that timeframe. It should be noted that a case may have multiple reserved judgments delivered before the case is finalised.

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, 2009–10 to 2013–14 (all reserved judgments)

This figure shows the reserved judgments delivered within three months, from 2009–10 to 2013–14 (all reserved judgments).

Figure 3.18 Time to deliver reserved judgments 2009–10 to 2013–14 (all reserved judgments)

This figure shows the time to deliver reserved judgments from 2009–10 to 2013–14 (all reserved 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 2013–14, the Court recorded 36 complaints relating to the judicial or personal conduct of judges.

This represented 0.18 per cent of all applications filed (19,651), under the Portfolio Budget Statements target of one per cent (when judicial services complaints and administrative complaints are combined they total 0.4 per cent).

The number of judicial services complaints received by the Court in 2013–14, and in previous years, is shown in Figure 3.19.

Figure 3.19 Judicial services complaints, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the number of judicial services complaints from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Unlike other federal courts, the Family Court has previously reported as complaints, enquiries received from parties to particular proceedings, or from legal representatives and professional bodies on behalf of clients, seeking information as to when judgment in their proceedings might be expected. Such enquiries will no longer be recorded as complaints. It is acknowledged that an enquiry might in some circumstance escalate to being a complaint – in which event it would be reported as a complaint in the usual way.

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 2009–10 to 2013–14

  2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 % Change
Appeals filed 315 328 373 326 330 1%
Appeals finalised 345 325 332 333 349 5%
Appeals pending 201 203 273 273 237 -13%

Social justice and equity impacts

Unrepresented litigants

The Court monitors the proportion of unrepresented litigants as one measure of the complexity of its caseload. Unrepresented 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, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the proportion of litigants’ representation status, finalised cases, from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Figure 3.21 Proportion of litigants' representation status, trials, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the proportion of litigants' representation status in trials, from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Family violence and abuse (or risk)

Under section 60K of the Family Law Act, the Court must consider and take action on notices of 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 has 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 which has plateaued for 2013–14. 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, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the notices of child abuse or risk of family violence filed, from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Figure 3.23 Proportion of final order cases in which a notice of child abuse or risk of family violence is filed, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the proportion of final order cases in which a notice of child abuse or risk of family violence was filed, from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

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.

During 2013–14 however there has been an increase in the number of Magellan cases commencing.

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

Figure 3.24 Magellan cases, 2009–10 to 2013–14

This figure shows the number of Magellan cases commenced and finalised, from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

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 2013–14, 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 in emails and calls relating to Commonwealth Courts Portal support.

The client services' Portfolio Budget Statement (PBS) deliverables for counter enquiries and email were met as well as the 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, including a greater focus on providing more comprehensive email material and the launch of Live Chat. 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 2012–13
target/result
2013–14 result 2013–14 achieved
Deliverables
Counter enquiries 187,400 151,000/243,384 255,792 Tick
Telephone enquiries* 238,400 287,600/223,419 356,004 Tick
Email enquiries** 83,600 50,300/107,798 113,163 Tick
KPIs
Counter enquiries 75% of all counter enquiries served within 20 minutes 75%/93% 92% Tick
Time taken to process applications lodged 75% of all applications lodged processed within two working days 75%/97% 98% Tick
NEC telephone calls answered 80% of calls answered within 90 seconds 80%/21% 28% Cross
Email response times 80% of email enquiries responded to within two working days 80%/100% 100% Tick
Complaints*** Complaints—1% of total applications received 1%/0.9% 0.4% Tick

* 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 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 2013–14, the family law registries continued to provide a high level of service and met noticeably increased volumes of counter enquiries. The increased volumes are consistent with an overall increase in the number of documents lodged, particularly applications for consent orders. Client service staff have been promoting the Commonwealth Courts Portal as an alternative to lodging documents at registry counters and will continue this into the next financial year.

As detailed in Table 3.4, it is estimated that the registries dealt with 255,792 counter enquiries in 2013–14 from clients or other people seeking information face-to-face. This compared to 243,384 counter enquiries in 2012–13.

In 2013–14, an estimated 92 per cent of clients were served within 20 minutes, against a target of 75 per cent, compared to 93 per cent in 2012–13.

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 (98 per cent of applications were processed within that timeframe).

National Enquiry Centre

The NEC continued to provide family law telephone and email support services to the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia in 2013–14.

The NEC's responsibility includes:

  • first telephone contacts to the courts and a majority of first email contacts
  • a large proportion of telephone and email contacts from existing clients, lawyers and other court stakeholders
  • support for users of the Commonwealth Courts Portal (the Portal). This includes the Family Court of Western Australia and the Federal Court
  • the After Hours Service
  • printing of divorce orders and requests for proof of divorce
  • Twitter notifications in relation to procedural and registry information for the Family Court, and
  • management of Live Chat for all clients and stakeholders of the courts.

Calls received to the 1300 enquiry number are provided with a presentation message to ensure that they have called the appropriate service. Callers are given options in relation to where their call may be better serviced. If they choose to continue they are given options through an IVR for general enquiries, divorce enquiries or Portal enquiries. These options are channelled to client service officers with particular skill sets. Once they choose an option in the IVR they are channelled to the queue to wait for the next available officer to answer their enquiries.

In 2013–14 the NEC focussed on providing clients and stakeholders with appropriate information as efficiently and simply as possible via email. These emails included links to appropriate forms and support information and also helped to promote electronic filing via the Portal.

Portal support was a major contributor to the workload of the NEC in 2013–14. Portal support calls and emails take longer as they can be of a technical nature or users require help with eFiling of documents.

Another large part of the NEC's work is referrals to stakeholders including Family Relationship Centres, the Family Relationship Advice Line (FRAL), community legal centres and other family community organisations. The NEC regularly consults with FRAL who provide services to Family Relationship Centres and community legal centres.

The NEC continued its commitment to support staff in their work and encourages a collaborative work place by:

  • providing ongoing coaching and training
  • providing peer support and mentoring
  • ensuring information knowledge management systems are up-to-date, and
  • holding regular meetings with staff to provide a two way process of information flow.

Workload and performance enhancing projects conducted in 2013–14 include:

  • reviewing and updating telephony wrap up times. These were reduced from 40 seconds to 20 seconds, giving staff the opportunity to pick up calls faster
  • enhancing information on the court websites to enable linking from email templates
  • streamlining proof of divorce request processes, including the introduction of a $30 fee for all requests
  • introducing capability to provide direct email access to all registries for certain enquiries, removing the need to concierge emails, and
  • introducing Live Chat on the court websites.

All these initiatives have helped to reduce the number of calls received as well as call waiting and call length times and have also led to substantial savings in telephony bills.

2013–14 NEC: Summary of performance

  • The NEC did not meet either the KPI for the percentage of calls answered within 90 seconds, but met all other performance targets. The NEC achieved a service level of 28 per cent which is up compared to last year (21%).
  • Callers waited an average of five minutes and 21 seconds for their call to be answered, compared to six minutes and 29 seconds in 2012–13.
  • The average time of a call was four minutes and 12 seconds, compared to four minutes and 24 seconds in 2012–13.
  • The NEC received a total of 356,004 calls (compared to 390,349 in 2012–13). Of these calls, 214,544 were queued to talk to a staff member.
  • There was a nine per cent decrease overall in calls received to the NEC compared with 2012–13. Factors contributing to this include: better service at the first point of contact by emailed information; there being no requirement to call back; better structured information on the website; increased use of the Portal; and the introduction of Live Chat.
  • 24,035 calls were received for Portal support. This is an increase from the 19,549 calls received in 2012–13.
  • 7084 calls abandoned while queued. This is a decrease of 4760 from 2012–13. The decrease in calls abandoned in the queue can be attributed to a flow on effect from fewer phone calls which contributed to reduced wait times.
  • 51,612 calls were transferred to a family law registry. This is a decrease of 33 per cent compared to 2012–13. The main reason for the decrease in transfers is better training in the NEC. NEC staff now assess whether the registry can assist the caller straight away or whether they can manage the response better by receiving an email from the NEC with file and client information so the registry can pull the file and call the client back at an operationally suitable time.
  • 30,855 emails were sent in response to an email enquiry.
  • 65,274 emails were sent in response to a telephone enquiry, compared with 50,976 in 2012–13.
  • 11,329 proof of divorce requests were processed. This is a 28 per cent increase from 2012–13.
  • 79,895 divorce orders were printed and posted to clients.
  • 213 calls were received by the After Hours Service of which 21 were referred to a registrar. Of these 15 orders were made by a judge.
  • 2434 live chats or an average of 120 per day were received since its launch in May 2014. This is predicted to increase once Live Chat is promoted more and a link provided on the Commonwealth Courts Portal.

Other interesting statistics

  • International calls decreased by six per cent in 2013–14 to 25 calls per day (or approximately 6325 calls per year). It is hoped that Live Chat and improved website information will see a further decline in this area.
  • Calls from the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) increased by 13 per cent. The ACT was the only state/territory to have an increase in callers.
  • Divorce outcome enquiries decreased by 27 per cent. This can be attributed to an increase in Portal usage and Portal notification of divorce order made.

Table 3.5 National Enquiry Centre, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Performance indicators and internal targets 2009–10
result
2010–11
result
2011–12
result
2012–13
result
2013–14
result
80% of calls answered within 90 seconds 40% 32% 45% 21% 28%
Less than 5% of calls abandoned when queued 27% 20% 8% 5% 3%
Less than 10% of calls transferred to a registry 2% 2% 1% 1% 1%
80% of emails answered within two days 91% 98% 100% 100% 100%

Client feedback and complaints management

The Family Court is committed to responding effectively to feedback and complaints, and to complying with Australian Standard AS ISO 10002—2006 (complaints handling) and the Commonwealth Ombudsman's Better Practice Guide to 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 homepage (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 conduct or delays in delivery of judgments 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 2013–14, the Family Court recorded:

  • 58 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
  • 36 complaints 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
  • 11 compliments.

At 58, the number of administrative complaints represented 0.3 per cent of all applications received. Combined with 36 judicial complaints (see the section 'Judicial services complaints' for more detail) complaints represented 0.4 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 ten categories of administrative complaints issues in 2013–14.

During 2013–14, the Court also recorded 58 complaints in total 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 2013–14

This figure provides a breakdown across ten categories of administrative complaints issues in 2013–14.

As a result of client feedback during 2013–14, aside from issues being resolved for clients on an individual basis, the Court was able to review security issues and provide further staff training on administrative issues such as service conduct, procedural information provision and mailing procedures.