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.

Goal

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.

Purpose

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.

Vision

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.

Jurisdiction

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 the 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. On 1 July 2014 FMA Act agencies became non-corporate Commonwealth entities under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.

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.

Outcome

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.

Program

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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 entity for the purposes of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013, 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 2014–15 Portfolio Budget Statements are shown on the next page.

Judicial services KPIs

Judicial services deliverables Goal (total number for 2014–15)
Final order finalisations 2822
Interim order finalisations 3367
Consent order finalisations 13,200
Other finalisations 375
Registries and NEC deliverables Goal (total number for 2014–15)
Telephone enquiries served 270,800
Counter enquiries served 150,000
Email enquiries responded to 50,000

Key performance indicators

Judicial services deliverables Target
Clearance rate (final orders) 100 per cent
Cases pending conclusion that are less than 12 months old 75 per cent
Reserved judgments are waiting less than three months after the conclusion of the trial 75 per cent
Number of complaints as a percentage of applications received 1 per cent
Registries and NEC KPIs Goal (total number for year)
National Enquiry Centre telephone enquiries answered within 90 seconds 80 per cent
Counter enquiries served within 20 minutes 75 per cent
Email enquiries responded to within two working days 80 per cent
Applications lodged processed within two working days 75 per cent

Strategic initiatives in the Portfolio Budget Statements

International Framework for Court Excellence

In 2013, the Chief Justice committed the Family Court of Australia to holistically implementing the International Framework of Court Excellence (the framework).1 Early in 2013, the Chief Justice formed a Court Excellence Committee, chaired by Justice Murphy, and comprising Justices Finn, Cronin, Austin and Loughnan with support from Regional Registry Manager, Jane Reynolds.

Having completed a comprehensive internal survey of all judges and staff in 2013 to obtain a robust 'self-assessment' of the Court's functioning against the principles promoted in this framework in the first year, the Court has spent this financial year implementing the central recommendations arising from that assessment in order to improve the Court's performance. The main achievements are reported below.

The Appeal Division

The Appeal Division is the exclusive jurisdiction of the Family Court and is considered the 'flagship' of the Court's work. To ensure the Appeal Division is properly supported, it has been recommended that judicial commissions be made to this Division to reflect the legislative provisions of the Act. Pending appointments being made by the Executive to the Appeal Division, the Family Court has ensured that the Full Courts are scheduled in a timely way and deliver timely decisions by assigning first instance judges to the Appeal Division. Further, additional registrar and coordination resources have been assigned to support the judicial work of the Full Courts and reporting by the Appeal Division.

Governance and communication

On the recommendations of the Court Excellence Committee, the Chief Justice reformed the governance model of the Court by establishing a new Court Policy Committee to oversee five new standing committees (see page 109 for more information on the new committee governance structure). This arrangement has successfully delivered improved decision making, judicial participation in the business of the Court, and enhanced approaches to implementation of decisions.

The Chief Justice noted that internal communication could be improved and has implemented a quarterly report to the judges which sets out the critical developments of the quarter. Her Honour also provides periodic and timely updates to judges on the business of the Court Policy Committee, and any other significant deliberations outside of her Honour's quarterly report.

Strategic Plan

The Court has set in process the development of a strategic plan on critical matters such as its jurisdiction vis-a-vis the Federal Circuit Court. Noting that jurisdiction for first instance matters is almost completely concurrent with the Federal Circuit Court's family law jurisdiction, the strategic plan is designed to set out a preferred approach for the transfer of matters to the Family Court of Australia, noting the judicial resources of the Court and its priority to the Appeal Division.

Court user satisfaction

A critical area of the framework is taking account of court user's views of their experience of registry services. In 2014, the courts undertook a second comprehensive court user satisfaction survey. This survey entailed face-to-face and online surveys of litigants, lawyers and others who attend the courts.

Over 75 per cent of those surveyed reported overall satisfaction with their experience at the registries. Users reported that they found staff professional and respectful, the processes of the courts fair and that the judges listened to their cases.

Areas for improvement included that more courts should start on time and litigants reported that they would like better information about what to expect when they attend court.

The results of the 2014 survey were, in many respects, similar to those reported in 2011. Significantly, the survey included detailed questions for litigants not represented by a lawyer. While those court users reported greater difficulty with some of the processes and procedures than those who are represented, their satisfaction with staff and with the courts overall, was not markedly different to those who are represented.

Staff had their say

The staff of the Court participated fully in the court excellence assessment process. The most central finding was that staff generally enjoy their work and rate the work of the Court highly. The area for improvement identified in the staff surveys was a call for improved internal communication, or more precisely, better consultation and engagement about critical matters. The Executive Director, Client Services, with the registry managers, has worked on this feedback by convening more regular two-way discussions with staff. One of the outputs of those processes is the Registry Services Delivery Strategy 2014–19 which sets out a vision for services to the public and to judges and is reflective of court excellence. See page 33 for more information on this strategy.

Access and inclusion framework for registry services

The Court will continue to develop and implement plans under its access and inclusion framework. The framework aims to ensure all clients, particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged clients, receive the assistance they need to access the Court.

The framework acknowledges that justice begins well before a litigant 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 the level of administrative support they receive.

Linking to the International Framework for Court Excellence, the framework also takes a broader view across the shared infrastructure needed to support the delivery of accessible services (e.g. information technology, training and performance development) as well as identifying the links, approaches, synergies and principles that affect justice as a whole.

The current plans under the framework are:

  • Multicultural Plan
  • Family Violence Plan
  • Indigenous Action Plan
  • Disability Action Plan (under development), and
  • Mental Health Support Plan (to be developed).

The Court recognises that people do not neatly fit into a single target client group, hence the Court has tried to adopt a flexible model of service delivery that allows staff to tailor services to the individual's need.

Multicultural Plan 2013–15

The Multicultural Plan was developed in response to a Commonwealth Government requirement. As part of its development, the Court engaged Maria Dimopoulos of Myriad Consulting to undertake a comprehensive review of multicultural access and equity at the Court. The review's findings and recommendations have informed the projects currently being implemented under the plan.

The following provides highlights of the completed, ongoing and new work undertaken to improve access and equity for the Court's culturally and linguistically diverse clients. These have occurred in addition to work undertaken to improve services at a local registry level.

New projects
Let's Talk: Cultural Competence e-learning

Image of the Cultural Competence e-learning homepage
The new Let's Talk cultural competence e-learning package

The Let's Talk cultural competence e-learning package provides staff with the knowledge, skills and awareness needed to work competently with culturally diverse clients across a range of service scenarios. Using a specifically built website, the package uses adult learning principles to deliver over two hours of training that combines text with videos, podcasts, TED talks, interactive scenarios, quizzes, reflection exercises and links. With the package now complete, staff will commence the online training in August 2015.

Commonwealth Courts Portal plain language hover text

Through the use of hover text, family law terminology used on the Application for Divorce form on the Commonwealth Courts Portal is now accompanied by plain English definitions. Litigants are able to hover their mouse over a particular word to view a plain English explanation of its meaning. This project specifically targets litigants experiencing language barriers and unrepresented litigants.

The court forms available on the Portal also provide links to the LawTermFinder, a website which allows clients to search for plain English definitions for 400 commonly used family law terms and view translations, for these terms, into Arabic, Vietnamese, Spanish, Simplified and Traditional Chinese. LawTermFinder is a joint project between the Attorney-General's Department and Macquarie University.

Website rebuild – culturally and linguistically diverse client pages

Image of the culturally and linguistically diverse client landing page on the Family Court website
The culturally and linguistically diverse client landing page on the Family Court website

The Court's new website (launched in May 2015) incorporates information and resources for culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) clients that will help them navigate the family law system and get the support they need. A landing page has been specifically designed for CaLD clients to provide a single and easy gateway to tailored information, forms, resources and links to relevant external support.

National Enquiry Centre (NEC) post-inquiry email

The post-telephone inquiry email, sent by the NEC to clients, now includes updated and improved links to support clients who require interpreters, those who need mental health support, Indigenous families, people experiencing family violence and individuals who need language assistance.

Forced marriage

Staff across the country participated in a workshop held by the Attorney-General's Department to raise awareness of forced marriage and trafficking issues for frontline officers who are likely to come into contact with people in, or at risk of, a forced marriage. The workshop included best-practice information on how to respond effectively to suspected cases of forced marriage, including information on the forced marriage legislative framework, key indicators and referral pathways. Staff have been made aware of the fact sheets and resources that were supplied at the workshops and copies are available for staff to access.

Ongoing work

There are a wide range of standard practices and policies that are specifically aimed to support CaLD clients and are continually reassessed and updated:

  • staff are skilled to organise and provide access to interpreter services
  • the Court's community language allowance encourages staff with language skills to develop and use their language skills with clients
  • all webpages and emails sent to clients provide a link to the LawTermFinder (lawtermfinder.mq.edu.au) as a source of plain English and translated definitions of family law terms
  • through collaboration with the Department of Human Services (DHS), the judiciary and staff have access to DHS's online guide to ethnic naming practices which covers the naming conventions of 66 languages, including some from newly emerging Australian communities
  • registry staff refer CaLD clients, where appropriate, to community support services, and
  • the Court participates in a range of Harmony Day activities including recognising outstanding contributions through Harmony Day Awards.
The NEC

To support CaLD clients, the NEC takes calls in other languages through the Telephone Interpreter Service. Further, they provide procedural information and legal referrals on a range of topics often relevant to CaLD clients such as getting documents translated, getting a divorce if you were married overseas, and information about using interpreters for court events. The NEC has ongoing involvement with the Forced Marriage Network through workshops and meetings. They also maintain a close working relationship with the Family Relationship Advice Line who are able to link CaLD clients, and others with specific support needs, to community and Government services.

Family Violence Plan 2014–16

Image of the front cover of the Family Violence Plan 2014-16
The Family Violence Plan 2014–16

Family violence remains widespread in Australia affecting adults and children who experience and or live in fear of it. It directly affects the physical and emotional wellbeing of families. The Court's family violence plan was developed in recognition of the importance of having a plan which sets out specific actions to support those experiencing, or at risk of, family violence.

New projects
Family Violence Screening Tool

During 2014, Child Dispute Services worked with the American authors of the Mediator's Assessment of Safety Issues and Concerns (MASIC) tool to develop a Family Court specific family violence screening tool. Since April 2015, this tool has been piloted at the Melbourne and Brisbane registries, using a method in which parents complete and submit responses prior to their interview. Family consultants can then use an individual's responses to better target their examination of family violence risks during clinical interview.

Despite trialling alternate methods for family violence screening – which may or may not be adopted nationally – there are comprehensive professional directions for family consultants regarding the assessment of violence risks. These outline a clear, stepwise, and prescriptive process that clinical staff must undertake when addressing family violence during assessments.

Safety at court

In Brisbane, staff worked with security personnel to ensure that clients who fear for their safety are able to access Child Dispute Services in a safe and secure manner. This removed previously existing ambiguity about how clients presented to security staff and steps to be taken.

Ongoing professional development and training
Family consultants

All family consultants joining the Court participate in a mandatory formal clinical induction process which includes two x 30 minute lectures on family violence within their first six months in the role and a requirement to read a summary of six academic papers relating to family violence.

Following the substantial legislative amendments in the area of family violence to the Family Law Act in 2012, family consultants completed a full day of training to ensure that they were apprised of the legislative changes, and afforded an opportunity to reflect on the manner in which their clinical practice needed to adapt in line with these amendments.

Ongoing professional development in family violence in 2014–15 was delivered as a series of three Family Violence Clinical Training Modules to all clinical staff and a monthly seminar series. The modules focused on the types of personal and professional biases that can impact on clinical practices, with a particular emphasis on balanced, robust and thorough examination/ reporting of family violence in written documents. The monthly seminar series involves an external expert presenting to staff on a topic relevant to their work. In relation to family violence, clinical staff were provided with regular updates on the empirical trends and practice methods relating to the assessment and treatment of family violence with topics including Men's Behaviour Change Programs – Do They Work and Should We Refer? (Professor Thea Brown); Forensic Examination of Violence in a Family Law Context (Dr Chris Lennings); and Post-Separation Arrangements in High Conflict Families (Professor Matthew Sanders).

With different registries seeing different presenting issues in litigants, registries are able to initiate additional and tailored professional development activities. For example, in Brisbane, Professor Cathy Humphries presented family violence, separated parents and fathering empirical insights and intervention challenges to local family consultants.

Resources – family consultants

A range of resources are maintained, updated and made available to family consultants to ensure they access the most up-to-date information and publications relating to family violence (and other topics). Resources include an extensive collection of chapters and academic papers organised by topic along with Connections, a software package which hosts video records of seminars and conferences, as well as slides and academic papers, and includes a recently introduced series of four x 70 minute videos of a conference delivered by international expert, Dr Phillip Stahl, the first of which focussed on family violence.

Referrals to community and support organisations

All registries and the NEC provide contact details to litigants for community organisations including organisations that provide support to those experiencing, or at risk of, family violence.

Some registries have arrangements to provide onsite support. For example, through Domestic Violence NSW, the Women's Family Law Support Service is located onsite in the Sydney registry, and where appropriate, registry services staff advise clients of the service. In Adelaide, the SA Women's Information Service Court Support Program Volunteers assist women experiencing family violence at the Family Court.

Other activities

The physical layout, court listing practices and the use of safety plans are all designed to protect those who fear for their safety. When litigants have fears about attending a court appointment at the same time, or in the same room, as a former partner, safe rooms are available in many registries and provision can sometimes be made for separate entry and exit points for the client. Alternatively litigants may be able to attend by phone or by video. Court staff are skilled in developing safety plans and putting measures in place to assure a litigant's safety.

Registry staff in Adelaide revisited training in relation to the FCC Notice of Risk to ensure they were clear of the procedures to be undertaken when litigants requests forms and/or seek procedural information about applications where there are allegations of family violence, risk of family violence, child abuse and/or risk of child abuse.

In response to a change in the organisations contracted to provide security services to the courts, registries have provided Safety at Court training for the incoming security guards.

For more information see the Family Violence Committee report on page 116.

Indigenous Action Plan 2014–16

The Family Court has a long history of 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 Action Plan 2014–16, 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.

Two full day training sessions on Indigenous Cultural Competence were held in Sydney and Townsville attended by regional coordinators, senior family consultants and family consultants from all registries. The sessions were led by Stephen Ralph, a Forensic Psychologist with extensive experience working in the field of family law and child protection who is a Koori and a descendent of the Gumbaynggirr people of the mid-north coast of NSW. Aboriginal people from local communities attended the training. The Indigenous Cultural Competence training gave family consultants skills in the particular clinical assessment needs of the Aboriginal community, a better understanding legislative requirements and the opportunity to build relationships with Aboriginal community members. At the conclusion of the training, professional directions were reviewed and were found to be consistent with good practices.

Reconciliation week activities were held in some registries with attendance by local elders and Aboriginal legal practitioners.

Image of the Indigenous courtroom at the Adelaide registry
Indigenous courtroom at the Adelaide registry

Disability

The Court is currently working with disability experts to develop a Disability Action Plan for 2015–17.

The Family Court will continue to strive to be a court where clients with disability receive the services and support needed to receive a fair hearing and obtain an appropriate outcome. The Court also aims to encourage, enable and empower our employees with disability, and those with a carer role, to achieve their full potential.

New projects

The Court's new website incorporates information and resources for people with a disability and their carers that will help them navigate the family law system and get the support they need. A 'landing page' has been specifically designed to provide a single and easy gateway to tailored information, forms, resources and links to relevant external support.

Ongoing work

There are a wide range of standard practices and policies that are specifically aimed to support people with a disability. Hearing loops are provided in court proceedings for hearing impaired litigants, and staff facilitate the presence of hearing dogs/ seeing eye dogs/ support animals in courtrooms. The Court supports Hearing Awareness Week each year.

Mental health

Image of the mental health client landing page on the Family Court website
The mental health client landing page on the Family Court website

Through the development of a Mental Health Action Plan, the Court hopes to build on extensive work done previously on setting up processes, referrals, responses and support needed to assist those who are mentally unwell or distressed.

The Court recognises that separation and divorce is stressful and that it has an obligation, through its practices, to support people wherever possible.

In previous training, staff were given skills in mental health first aid, on how to give appropriate initial help and support to someone experiencing a mental health issue. Further, the Court has in place a range of standard practices and policies that support people with mental health issues or who are experiencing emotional distress. Current practices include:

  • referral to community organisations that are able to provide counselling and mental health support during separation and divorce
  • protocols to get the right immediate assistance in situations where someone is threatening to harm themselves or others either in person or over the telephone
  • providing resources to clients about handling stress, and
  • the recent launch of a single landing page on the Court's new website for those with mental health and/or emotional support needs which links to a range of resources and support.

Enhancing service to court users through information technology

The courts are continuously seeking to enhance access to justice and to provide meaningful information necessary to advance litigation via their information technology systems. The courts' IT strategies include being attentive to the needs of those who live in regional Australia, those who have limited means, those who do not have legal representation, and those who may be disadvantaged as a result of violence or language or some other barrier to justice.

Strategic initiatives to advance this effort include:

Ongoing improvement to the Commonwealth Courts Portal

Commonwealth Courts Portal logo

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 2014–15 more than 250,000 such notifications were sent.

The eFiling functions continue to be expanded and a number of enhancements were made to the Portal, including:

  • application for Consent Orders can now be eFiled
  • a number of supplementary documents can now be eFiled
  • mandatory Notice of Risk has been added to Initiating Application and Initiating Application Response eForms to assist in identifying cases with a risk of family violence, and
  • a new function to allow members of the public to request a copy of their divorce certificate for divorces granted before implementation of the Commonwealth Courts Portal (certificates can be downloaded directly from the Portal for more recent divorces).

Work has also continued to ensure that the Commonwealth Courts Portal complies with version 2.0 Level 'AA' of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. In addition, a complete end-to-end usability review of the Portal was undertaken with a user experience expert advising on improved screen designs. Development of these screens is expected to commence in 2015–16.

The following statistics highlight the significant growth in the number of Portal users as at 30 June 2015:

  • 5943 firms now registered (up from 4900 at 30 June 2014)
  • lawyer registrations have increased to 12,007 (up from 10,000 at 30 June 2014)
  • total registered users now at 196,865 (up from 153,092 at 30 June 2014).

Table 2.1 Registered users of the Commonwealth Courts Portal, 2011–12 to 2014–15

  30 June 2012 30 June 2013 30 June 2014 30 June 2015
Number of law firms registered 3280 4134 4965 5943
Number of lawyers registered 6746 8370 9921 12,007
Other users 78,586 109,738 143,171 184,858
Total registered users 85,332 118,108 153,092 196,865

Table 2.2 Documents eFiled in the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court, 2011–12 to 2014–15

  2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15
Adelaide 4912 7121 8927 10,797
Albury 501 802 1114 1695
Alice Springs 109 136 70 84
Brisbane 27,379 35,666 41,609 48,362
Cairns 1076 1350 1918 2619
Canberra 2004 2914 3420 4160
Coffs Harbour 863 1000 1452 1757
Dandenong 5331 7594 9251 10,339
Darwin 359 519 822 1071
Dubbo 363 660 874 1257
Hobart 562 700 1001 1255
Launceston 734 876 902 976
Lismore 1109 1672 2274 2658
Melbourne 19,329 31,650 37,747 45,774
Newcastle 4724 6700 8734 11,469
Parramatta 7736 11,101 13,441 17,729
Rockhampton 746 1311 1664 1909
Sydney 10,466 15,372 18,998 23,925
Townsville 2115 2787 2904 3758
Wollongong 1444 2352 3341 4004
Total 91,862 132,283 160,463 195,598

In Western Australia there were 7460 documents eFiled during 2014–15.

Major Casetrack enhancement

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. Development of additional functionality continued during 2014–15.

Budgetary pressures

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.

Following consideration of various reviews into the courts' structural funding issues, the Government announced in its 2015–16 Budget that the following initiatives would be undertaken to assist the courts in funding their operations into the future:

  • the courts' fees would be raised to generate additional funding, part of which would be retained by the courts to assist in meeting future funding requirements
  • the efficiency dividend arrangements applied by Government to agency funding would be adjusted to recognise that judicial salaries were not a controllable cost of the courts
  • losses for 2015–16, 2016–17 and 2017–18 were approved, and
  • the courts' shared corporate service arrangements would be consolidated, effective 1 July 2016, into the Federal Court of Australia.

The above initiatives are expected to allow the courts to operate at their current activity levels and staffing in 2015–16. The resourcing plans for the consolidated shared service arrangements from 2016–17 will be finalised as part of the corporate consolidation process with the Federal Court of Australia.

Outlook for 2015–16

In 2015–16, the following may have an impact on the Court and its delivery of services:

  • the implementation of the Government's 2015–16 Budget decision to streamline the courts corporate shared services arrangements by consolidating these functions into the Federal Court of Australia from 1 July 2016. A significant amount of work and resources will be required in 2015–16 to prepare for this consolidation of services to ensure an efficient and effective transition is achieved
  • any Government decisions during the year that relate to the Australian Public Service employment arrangements
  • Government or other initiatives relating to 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 R&R (CS, RC), Armidale (RC, FamC), Coffs Harbour (JC, RC), Dubbo R&R (CS, JC, RC, FC), Lismore R&R (CS, JC, RC, FC), Newcastle (J, R, FC, CS), Parramatta (J, R, FC, CS), Port Macquarie (FamC), Sydney (J, R, FC, CS), Tamworth (RC, FamC), Wollongong R&R (R, CS, FC)
Northern Territory
Alice Springs R&R (JC, FamC), Darwin (CS, JC, RC, FC)
Queensland
Brisbane (J, R, FC, CS), Cairns R&R (R, FC, CS, JC), Mackay (JC, RC, FamC), Rockhampton R&R (CS, JC, RC, FamC), Townsville (J, R, FC, CS)
South Australia
Adelaide (J, R, FC, CS)
Tasmania
Devonport R&R (RC), Hobart (J, R, FC, CS), Launceston R&R (CS, FC, JC, RC)
Victoria
Ballarat (RC), Bendigo (RC), Dandenong (R, FC, CS), Geelong (RC), Melbourne (J, R, FC, CS), Mildura (RC), Morwell (RC), Shepparton (RC), Warrnambool (RC)
Legend
J – Judge
R – Registrar
FC – Family Consultant
CS – Client Services
JC – Judicial Circuit
RC – Registrar Circuit
FamC – Family Consultant Circuit
R&R – Rural and Regional Registry

square legend icon showing registry and regional registry locations Registry or rural and regional registry
round legend icon showing registry and regional registry locations Circuit location

Map of Australia showing registry and circuit locations

Court initiatives

Live Chat

Image of the courts Live Chat logo

Live Chat was launched on the courts' websites in April 2014.

Live Chat is a cost effective and easily manageable channel of communication. Staff can multi-task and manage up to four conversations at once and it also provides a convenient way for clients to access the courts and engage with client service officers.

Since its launch, the courts have received 46,459 live chats.

Key statistics

  • 187 live chats per day.
  • 27 per cent of questions are about Portal support
  • 73 per cent are general questions, and
  • the most popular questions are about applying for a divorce and parenting applications.

Live Chat is available during business hours and can be accessed from the homepages of: www.familycourt.gov.au, www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au and www.comcourts.gov.au

Twitter

Twitter logo

The Family Court of Australia's Twitter account has been operating since October 2012. Twitter provides followers with timely, relevant and easy to access information about the Family Court of Australia and family law issues.

Followers are predominately made up of legal professionals, law students, journalists and members of the general public.

During 2014–15 the Court:

  • attracted 976 new followers, bringing the total number of followers to 1974
  • tweeted 324 times– an average of over six tweets per week
  • was re-tweeted 635 times, and
  • had a potential reach of 1,393,251.

Follow the Court on Twitter https://twitter.com/FamilyCourtAU

YouTube

YouTube logo

The Court's YouTube channel provides 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
  • File your application online with the Commonwealth Courts Portal
  • Islamic family law in Australia book launch
  • Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO – family violence interview
  • Australian leadership award – improving women's access to justice in family law in the Pacific
  • Mediation – what to expect, and
  • Court Tour.

Visit the Family Court's YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/familycourtAU

Online proof of divorce

An online proof of divorce request process was introduced to streamline the process for people wanting to obtain a copy of their divorce order from the courts. The process involves a person completing an online interactive form and submitting payment online by credit card. The Court then provides an original copy of the divorce.

The new process has been very successful and to date 2454 requests have been made since the online interactive from was introduced on 28 March 2015.

The new process has also streamlined the process for the courts in reducing the amount of back office paperwork and time to process the requests.

Registry waiting times

Data from the courts' client queue management system concerning client service waiting times and the number of clients waiting for service at registry counters is transferred 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.

Counter waiting times are available for the Adelaide, Brisbane, Dandenong, Melbourne, Parramatta and Sydney registries.

Intranet upgrade

Significant progress on the intranet upgrade has been made, however due to limited resources and realignment of priorities, the intranet upgrade project has been delayed and the new intranet is yet to be launched. The intranet will, however, benefit from a number of lessons learned from the website redevelopment.

There was a change of scope for the intranet search requirement to include enterprise search which has now been implemented and provides the intranet with enhanced search capabilities across multiple platforms.

Work still to be done includes:

  • completion of content migration – to date over 5000 content items have been migrated
  • undertake quality assurance of content, and
  • resolve a small number of outstanding technical issues.

It is expected that the intranet launch will take place in 2015–16.

Registry Services Return

In 2015 a new reporting framework called the Registry Service Quarterly Return (RSR) was developed. The RSR is designed to demonstrate that the operations in support of both courts in each registry are being managed appropriately and effectively.

The RSR ensures a consistent focus with the Registry Services Strategy; demonstrates a systematic approach to monitoring and managing registry services; monitors areas of important compliance formally and regularly; identifies and mitigates areas of challenge and share success; and identifies issues of national impact so that a holistic strategic response can be developed and implemented.

The RSR also provides for reporting on broader issues, including:

  • electronic filing
  • subpoena management
  • identification of inefficient registry practices
  • circuit management issues, and
  • new initiatives commenced within the registries.

The consolidated RSR provides a great deal of value to the courts as it:

  • provides visibility and sharing of challenges and successes across registries on a quarterly basis, and assists in building a cohesive registry services management team
  • places greater importance on key management reports to improve understanding of the dynamics and operations of the registry they lead
  • helps registry managers refocus regularly on agreed priorities, both tactical and strategic
  • demonstrates to stakeholders, in a structured way, how registry services are managed recognising the budget and resources provided, and
  • further supports key objectives of the Court's Excellence Framework.

Registry Services Delivery Strategy 2014–19

Registry managers met in May 2014 to develop a service delivery strategy for 2014–19.

The strategy, which is reviewed annually, focuses on the courts' priorities over a five year period.

Key initiatives in the strategy include:

  • provide services that can be easily used via a range of pathways (live chat, portal, website, phone and counter) with 24/7 access via the portal and website
  • adapt our services to the needs of court users, and empower them to prepare and manage their cases
  • provide timely and high level support to the judiciary of both courts
  • ensure that our staff are adding value by being knowledgeable, well trained and courteous
  • provide user-friendly forms, simplified processes and accurate, up-to-date information
  • provide technologically innovative solutions such as the electronic court file
  • maintain up-to-date user-friendly websites that effectively meet the needs of litigants, lawyers and the public
  • develop a range of innovative online services such as lodgment of consent orders and divorce applications and enable payments
  • make available a range of services provided by staff with the training and experience to show empathy for clients in a challenging period of their lives, and
  • provide face-to-face assistance to litigants who have special needs and/or require greater levels of support.

Projects that will be gradually introduced over the next few years include:

  • an electronic court file that integrates the needs of the judiciary, increases accessibility for litigants and lawyers and minimises administrative overheads
  • a 'virtual registry' that enables lawyers to leverage their own systems to access all the court-related information they need, as well as enabling them to initiate applications, make payments and complete all of their transactions with the courts online
  • specialised counter and telephone services for litigants who are unable to find the information they need, or complete the relevant transactions online, and
  • training to ensure our staff are able to help litigants, lawyers and the judiciary derive maximum benefit from the gradual introduction of new technologies.

Projects that will be further explored over the next few years include:

  • a smart phone/tablet application designed to facilitate access to specific services such as fee payments and event reminders
  • utilisation of social networking tools to provide users with current information about registry services
  • partnerships with State and Commonwealth agencies designed to enhance and streamline the provision of services in rural and regional Australia, and
  • a move to a model of registry service where the legal profession interacts with the courts by electronic means.

At the first annual review, the Executive Director Client Services advised that the strategy remained current and that many of the identified projects were well advanced, including the cashless registry, eDivorce, eConsent and the registry services Wiki.

Client Service Senior Manager's Group

The Client Service Senior Managers' 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.

During the reporting period, the group met on four occasions by video-link as well as communicating via 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 2014–15 including:

  • developing a strategy to move to a cashless registry environment by 1 July 2015
  • 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
  • enhancing the staff Peer Support Program, which provides practical and emotional support for court staff when there are distressing events at work
  • assisting with the implementation of the new Notice of Risk form in the Federal Circuit Court – a mandatory form for any person who files an application or response seeking parenting orders in the Federal Circuit Court on or after 12 January 2015, and
  • assisting with debt collection strategies for unpaid fees.

There are other initiatives that are still under development, which will be implemented in the next financial year.

Child Dispute Services fact sheets

Image of the Seeing a family consultant FAQ - Family Court of Australia fact sheet
Seeing a family consultant FAQ – Family Court of Australia

 

Image of the Family Dispute Resolution (Hague Matters) fact sheet
Family Dispute Resolution (Hague Matters)

Two new fact sheets were added to the Child Dispute Services fact sheet range:

  • Seeing a family consultant FAQ – Family Court of Australia, and
  • Family Dispute Resolution (Hague Matters).

This brings the Child Dispute Services range to eight fact sheets. These can be accessed on the Family Court website under Publications > By topic.

How do I?

Image of the How do I section on the Family Court website
The How do Is section is designed to help unrepresented litigants through the common court processes

In conjunction with the launch of the Court's new website, a series of new How do I? pages have been developed. These include:

  • Apply for a divorce
  • Serve a divorce
  • Serve a divorce by hand
  • Serve a divorce by post
  • Apply to the Court for a dispensation of service or substituted service order when I cannot find the respondent to serve the application for divorce
  • Apply for consent orders
  • Apply for parenting orders
  • Apply for property and financial orders
  • Apply to the Court when parenting orders have been breached or not complied with
  • Serve an initiation application
  • Electronically file an application, and
  • Register for the Commonwealth Courts Portal.

The How do I's are designed to help unrepresented litigants through the common court processes by providing a step-by-step guide, related links and frequently asked questions.

These can be accessed through the homepage of the Court's website at www.familycourt.gov.au

IBM Connections

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 2014–15 include:

  • growth in the number of communities from 143 at 30 June 2014 to 150 at 27 May 2015
  • increased use of wikis in providing a centralised platform to share information. There are currently 119 wikis totalling 2357 pages. To date they have been utilised as knowledge bases for professional development, procedures and training materials as well as supporting day-to-day operations across the courts. Examples include:
    • a client service wiki which has been developed to support the work of the NEC
    • the development of a wiki aimed to support Registry Services staff by providing improved access to procedures and processes. The wiki will provide a platform for staff to share knowledge and best practice ideas
  • increased use of Blogs as a communication tool within teams and communities. There are currently 92 blogs across the courts.

Infrastructure improvements

During 2014–15 a number of changes and upgrades were made to the courts' IT infrastructure to meet the courts' needs and improve performance and stability.

Infrastructure improvements in the financial year included:

  • all of the courts' Blackberry devices were replaced with Apple iPhones
  • new laptops were purchased to replace the courts' laptop fleet
  • a new Wide Area Network (WAN) was implemented to deliver increased bandwidth to all court registries
  • migration to a new Internet Gateway was completed
  • modelling showed potential weaknesses in the courts' database servers, so these were upgraded to cope with increased load as the courts move towards an Electronic Court File
  • a trial of technology on the Bench commenced, with a view to understanding options for providing information electronically to judges sitting in court
  • recording functionality was added to the courts' videoconferencing system to allow recording of presentations for later viewing, and
  • IT infrastructure was installed in new premises in Sydney and Darwin.

Court tour goes interactive

Image of the Court tour video on YouTube
The court tour aims to assist unrepresented litigants who have a matter in front of a judge or registrar

In December 2014 the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia added a new video-based court tour to their YouTube channels. The video has been developed for unrepresented litigants who have a matter in front of a judge or registrar.

The court tour covers important areas such as:

  • preparing for court
  • how to speak to court officers and members of the judiciary
  • what to expect in the courtroom
  • court orders, and
  • feeling safe in court.

To view the court tour, go to youtube.com/user/familycourtAU

Independent Children's Lawyers conference

Logo of the Independent Childrens Lawyer conference

The Children's Committee of the Family Court of Australia, the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Western Australia, in conjunction with National Legal Aid and the Family Law Section, held the inaugural national conference for Independent Children's Lawyers in Sydney in October 2014.

The conference attracted over 140 delegates, with keynote speakers including Justice Colin Forrest (Family Court), Chief Judge Pascoe (Federal Circuit Court) and Chief Judge Thackray (Family Court of Western Australia).

Key topics discussed included children's participation; initiatives to support ICL practices; keeping children safe; ethical jeopardy and how it works; and honouring the role.

Family law registries cashless from 1 July 2015

Image of the Famiy law registries going cashless poster

A proposal to remove cash payments was first presented to the Chief Executive Officer's Management Advisory Group in 2005, however was not supported at that time due to other priorities. The significant technological advances in recent years, particularly in card payments and e-lodgment, provided the impetus for the courts' administration to reconsider the issue, including considering the removal of cheque payments, which aligns with the Registry Services Delivery Strategy 2014–19.

Prior to proceeding, approximately 80 per cent of respondents to a survey question indicated they would be unaffected by the removal of cash and cheques. Specifically, by increasing the number of processes that can be completed online, additional resources can be available for tailored face-to-face services. Additionally, the courts identified that the removal of cash and cheque payments from registries offered significant reductions in direct and indirect costs, and would reduce the risk to staff health and safety resulting from cash management.

In 2014 an implementation plan for eliminating cash and cheque payments was developed. After consultation with internal and external stakeholders, a two stage approach was developed. Stage one involved the removal of cash payments from registries from 1 July 2015. This change was communicated to the general public and the legal profession through the websites and signage from March 2015.

Stage two involves consultation with the legal profession about eliminating cheques from early 2016. The administration has made a formal representation to the Family Law Section of the Law Council and will advance the concept with the legal profession informally at meetings and other forums during 2015. The administration will also continue to develop online payment options to assist law firms and clients to transition to a cashless and chequeless environment.

New websites deliver improved access to court services

Image of the homepage of the new Family Court of Australia website
The new Family Court website was launched on 29 May 2015

The Family Court website (www.familycourt.gov.au) and the Federal Circuit Court website (www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au) have been upgraded and rebuilt, with the new websites officially launched on 29 May 2015.

The Family Law Courts website (www.familylawcourts.gov.au) was decommissioned at that time with content moved onto the Federal Circuit Court website. Links to the Family Law Courts website have been redirected to either the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court website.

The upgrade was a significant project which was in response to changes in requirements and expectations by the Government, practitioners and the general public.

The new design and layout of the websites reflects best practice for web design and incorporates feedback from a sample of key stakeholders.

The new websites deliver improved access to court services, better structured information, an easy to follow navigation and a greater focus on e-services. The websites provide specific site areas for those parts of the community who have special requirements. In addition, they will provide a translation and read back facility in multiple languages in the coming months.

For more information about the project see page 77 (In focus) or to provide feedback email communication@familylawcourts.gov.au

Mediation – what to expect

Mediation – what to expect, is the latest video available on the Family Court's YouTube channel. The video was produced for the 5th LawAsia, Family Law and Children's Rights Conference in Sapporo Japan which was held in June 2014. The video was also used for the Australia–Indonesia justice partnership, in light of Indonesia's introduction of mediation to family law disputes.

The video shows a mock mediation between a couple (an Australian father and Japanese mother) who are trying to come to an agreement about parenting arrangements. In particular, whether their two children will live with their father in Australia or with their mother in Japan. In light of Japan's signing of the Hague Convention at the beginning of 2014, the video is a timely and useful resource for people who are going into mediation, not knowing what to expect.

Justin Dowd, a long standing member of LawAsia's Family Law and Children's Rights Section and an instrumental part of the video's production, presented the video at the LawAsia conference in Sapporo, along with members of the legal profession from Singapore, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Australian Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting

Image of the Australian Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting
The Australian Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting

On 11 February 2015 the Family Court of Australia, Family Court of Western Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia, launched the Australian Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting, a publication developed by the three courts which aims to establish a nationally consistent approach when family assessments are undertaken and reports developed for the courts that deal with family law within Australia.

The publication outlines best practice and identifies a range of minimum standards that are expected by the courts in the development of family reports. The quality and consistency in the information provided to the judicial officer overseeing the case is critical in determining what is in the best interests of the child in each case.

This publication will not only assist those who develop the reports, but will provide transparency and assist lawyers and those involved in family law, to better understand what family assessments and reports entail and what can be expected from the process.

Chief Justice Bryant, Chief Judge Pascoe and Chief Judge Thackray have stated that, 'It is imperative that judicial officers, and all of those involved in children's cases, are fully informed of the issues relevant to those families. This document will assist in ensuring that we have uniformity and consistency in the quality of information that is prepared for the courts'.

For more information see the Australian Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting at www.familycourt.gov.au

Seventh International Courts Administration Conference

Image of poster promoting the 2015 International Courts Administration Conference
Over 40 countries were represented at the International Association for Court Administration's seventh International Conference

In September 2014 the International Association for Court Administration's (IACA), Seventh International Conference took place in Sydney with over 40 countries represented and more than 250 delegates attending, including staff and members of the judiciary of both the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

This year's conference was titled International Perspectives on Justice Administration 10 years on... and provided delegates with a unique opportunity to meet and collaborate with court administrators from around the world.

Chief Executive Officer of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court and outgoing President of IACA, Richard Foster said 'The discussions that took place over the three days of the conference will go a long way to enhancing and improving the delivery of court services and access to justice around the world'.

A range of court administrators, international judicial members and academics presented on topics including succession planning in court administration, access to justice for vulnerable groups and building and sustaining public confidence through communication strategies and social media.

IACA's international conferences are held every two years. The next conference will be held in the USA.

Mobile application and booths in registries

Image of a woman using the iRefer app
iRefer provides a directory of programs and services for families experiencing separation

A free mobile app' – called iRefer Vic – launched in 2014, provides users with a searchable directory of programs and services that are available to families experiencing separation.

The app', developed by the Victorian Family Law Pathways Network, provides people with information that will complement, supplement or pre-empt agreements made by parties, or orders of the courts. It provides information and referral pathways to services that avoid conflict in the courtroom, or continuing conflict at home, with services grouped into categories such as counselling, family dispute resolution and mental health services.

In addition to the iRefer app', Victorian Family Law Pathways, with the support of the courts, have established booths, staffed by law students, in the Melbourne and Dandenong registries to assist litigants with referral/ contact details to external legal services.

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 nine.

International cooperation

Indonesia court-to-court cooperation – 10 years on

The Family Court of Australia's engagement with the Indonesian courts first began in 2004 under the court-to-court partnership funded by the Australian Government. The Court has collaborated on a wide scope of activities, involving many judges, court staff and court administrators from both Indonesia and Australia.

This work has been underpinned by a strong research focus in collaboration with the courts, Indonesian research institutes and civil society organisations. It identified access to justice barriers which the courts then sought to resolve using a variety of innovative and effective approaches. By removing these barriers to justice, the Indonesian courts have witnessed a significant increase in the ability of women, the poor and people living in remote areas to access the courts for their family law matters.

In 2013, more than 85 per cent of all civil cases heard in Indonesian courts and more than 70 per cent of all cases heard in Indonesia related to family law and legal identity matters. Matters included marriage legalisation cases, divorce cases and birth certificate cases. Therefore the need to legalise marriage, formalise a divorce, or recognise children from a marriage are critical for Indonesian citizens regardless of their wealth, level of education or place of residence.

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 February 2014.

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:

  • the 2011 Progress of the World's Women report produced by United Nations Women, and
  • the 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development.

Some key findings from the research include:

  • nine out of every 10 women who were poor were unable to access the Religious Courts due to cost, distance and lack of understanding of the process. For the large number of Indonesians living under the poverty line, and for those in rural and remote areas, court fees and transport costs can often amount to two times their average monthly income
  • nine out of 10 women would be more motivated to obtain a legal divorce if court fees were waived and if a circuit court were held in a nearby town
  • the majority of couples surveyed did not have a marriage certificate and three quarters of their children do not have birth certificates.
  • the Indonesian Government estimates suggest that as many as 50 million Indonesians and 60 per cent of all Indonesian children under five do not have birth certificates, and
  • the failure to obtain legal documentation in relation to marriage and divorce is associated with 56 per cent of children from these marriages not obtaining birth certificates.

Collage showing several images of the Court’s work with Indonesia.

Collaborating on this research was an important step; however the Indonesian courts went much further in terms of the policies it implemented over subsequent years to attempt to address barriers faced by women, the poor and people living in remote areas in accessing the Indonesian courts.

Some of these polices include:

  • the publication of online court judgments to improve transparency
  • the introduction of court fee waivers for the poor
  • the introduction of circuit courts so that judges can deliver justice to those marginalised rural and remote groups
  • the introduction of legal aid providers in court buildings so vulnerable litigants can obtain free information and advice
  • the provision of paralegal services provided by women's non-government organisations (NGOs), and
  • the development of a series of legal aid handbooks and citizens' guides to the law on family law and birth certificate cases.

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 since 2009, the Religious Courts have:

  • doubled the number of cases heard at a circuit court
  • doubled the number of women bringing cases to the Religious Courts of Indonesia to more than 250,000
  • more than tripled the number of marriage legalisation cases in Indonesia, and
  • quadrupled the number of court fees waived – a total of more than 12,000 in 2012.

The program has assisted with:

  • a major expansion of free legal aid services in courts across Indonesia, funded by the state. By 2012, 189 General Courts and 69 Religious Courts had legal aid posts, supported by 228 legal aid organisations, and serving 42,505 clients in the General Courts and 55,860 in the Religious Courts
  • the introduction of PEKKA NGO paralegals to assist individuals with their family law and legal identity matters. In 2014 they assisted more than 100,000 individuals in 19 provinces to obtain legal identity documents, and
  • the provision of PEKKA NGO Legal Aid clinics (KLIK) at the village level. In six months this NGO provided legal advisory services to more than 3800 individuals at village level, 85 per cent of whom were women.

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.

Legal identity goes beyond providing people with a piece of paper. Birth, marriage and divorce certificates are a critical part of a modern civil registration and statistics system. The Constitutional Court of Indonesia stated in a decision in 2013 (No 18/ PUU–XI/2013) that 'a person without a birth certificate does not exist in a legal sense in a state'. An unregistered child is in an official state of non-existence. Legal identity is therefore fundamental to counting the number of individuals every government is accountable for, in terms of delivering health, education, social services and legal protection.

In Indonesia, the provision of a birth certificate document to a child with both the mother and father's name on it requires evidence of a legal marriage. In Indonesia, it is the courts that undertake the task of legalising marriages – the Religious Courts for Muslims and the General Courts for non-Muslims. It is only then that the other government agencies can issue a marriage certificate and birth certificate.

Therefore, in Indonesia, the courts are central to removing the 'official state of non-existence' that millions of children in Indonesia currently face. All of the Family Court's collaboration on improving access to the courts for vulnerable groups supports this work.

For more information see Ten years of court-to-court partnership: assessing the impact of Australian engagement on judicial reform in Indonesia, available at
http://www.aipj.or.id/en/news_media/general_stories_detail/ten-years-cooperation

In Focus

Image of Justice Bennett with colleagues from the Supreme Court of Japan.

Image: Hague Convention Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 16 October 2014. From left: Matsuura Mie (Case Worker), Yuta Yamasaki (Deputy Director), Satoshi Taketa (Deputy Director), Justice Bennett (Australia), Kaoru Magosaki (Director), Yuri Yamazaki (Case Worker), Chie Maekoya (Case Worker), Takumi Kawano (Deputy Director)

Australia–Japan co-mediation program

The Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction ("1980 Convention") entered into force between Japan and Australia on 1 April 2014.

In October 2014, Justice Bennett travelled to Japan to attend a conference of the International Bar Association and, while there, was involved in various meetings about the operation of the 1980 Hague Convention between Australia and Japan. Her Honour visited the Supreme Court of Japan, where she met with Justice Okabe, a sitting Judge of that Court. Her Honour also met with officers of the Family Bureau, including the director of the Bureau, Judge Kentaro Oka, to discuss contact centres and enforcement of contact orders in Australia. Finally, Justice Bennett met with the Japanese Central Authority, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Upon Justice Bennett's return to Australia, her Honour began to put together a proposal to build a family law mediation and electronic access resource between Japan and Australia. Working in conjunction with members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japanese lawyers and Australian legal practitioners with expertise in Hague matters, Justice Bennett (joined by Justice Benjamin) created a proposal which was submitted to the Attorney-General's Department as an application for funding to create a system comprised of bi-national co-mediators and social scientists who would be trained together in Japan; an online mediation service which would operate at little or no expense to users; and an online supervised access service which would be affordable to produce and use.

The overall objectives of the project are:

  • to establish an integrated system for use in international child abduction and access cases between Japan and Australia, and
  • to enable children whose parents live across international borders to know both their parents where it is in the child's best interests to do so, in an atmosphere of enhanced awareness by each country of the other country's laws, cultural values and social conventions.

In March 2015, funding to send an Australian delegation to Japan for co-mediation training was approved by the Attorney-General's Department.

The delegation has now been finalised and will travel to Japan in September 2015 for the training. The Australian participants are:

  • The Honourable Justice Robert Benjamin AM (Family Court of Australia)
  • Dr Ben Jones (Family Court of Australia / Federal Circuit Court of Australia)
  • Ms Paule Eckhaus (Family Court of Australia / Federal Circuit Court of Australia)
  • Ms April O'Mara (Family Court of Australia / Federal Circuit Court of Australia)
  • Ms Deborah Fry (Family Court of Australia / Federal Circuit Court of Australia)
  • Ms Freia Carlton (Victoria Legal Aid)
  • Mr Walter Ibbs (Victoria Legal Aid)
  • Ms Jill Raby (Victoria Legal Aid)
  • Ms Lynette Hill (Legal Aid Western Australia)
  • Ms Helen Freris (International Social Service)
  • Ms Kay Hardefeldt (International Social Service)
  • Ms Mary Louise Hatch (Relationships Australia Victoria)
  • Ms Amanda Humphreys (Kennedy Partners)
  • Mr Maurice Edwards (Watts McCray Lawyers).

The training will be conducted by Eberhard Carl, former International Hague Network Judge and Judge of the Regional Superior Court at Frankfurt/Main, Germany; and Sybille Kiesewetter, a psychologist, mediator and trainer who co-edited the handbook Cross-Border Family Mediation: International Parental Child Abduction, Custody and Access Cases (Wolfgang Metzner Verlag, 2nd ed, 2014).

The Australia–Japan co-mediation program will lead the world, serving as a pilot project to assist bilateral processes between other Asian states using the structure we are creating as a broad geopolitical resource.