Outcome and program

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court has a single outcome and single program on which it reports in 2014–15. 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 2014–15.

Changes to previously published figures

The Court continually conducts data quality activities on its electronic case data. This is done to ensure that our case management system, as best as it can, reflects the information that is contained on the paper-based file. Due to the complex nature of the data captured, and the changing circumstances of the case, it is not unusual for data entries needing to be updated and refreshed. As a result of the activities in the past few years, the Court has decided to entirely refresh the historical data for the previous four years. This means that figures published in this report for historical years may not always be the same as those published in previous annual reports. Any changes in figures should be relatively insignificant.

Historic performance against KPIs

The Court has eight key performance indicators (KPIs) against which it has reported for the past five years to 2014–15. Table 3.1 shows the results of each of those years.

Table 3.1 Summary of performance against all KPIs targets from 2010–11 to 2014–15

Key Performance Indicators/target 2010–11 result 2011–12 result 2012–13 result 2013–14 result 2014–15 result
Clearance rate more than 100% 104% 100% 101% 98% 99%
75% of matters pending conclusion are less than 12 months old 70% 72% 71% 72% 72%
75% of reserved judgments are waiting less than three months after the conclusion of trial (at 30 June) 73% 50% 51% 50% 56%
75% of all counter enquiries are served within 20 minutes 97% 88% 93% 92% 91%
75% of applications lodged are processed within two working days 97% 97% 97% 98% 97%
80% of calls answered within 90 seconds (NEC only) 32% 33% 21% 28% 34%
80% of emails answered within two days (NEC data only) 98% 100% 100% 100% 100%
Complaints—1% of total applications received 2% 0.6% 0.9% 0.7% 0.8%
Number of KPI/targets achieved >4 5 5 4 4

The Court has, for three out of five years, 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 99 per cent, despite a 3.9 per cent increase in finalisations during the year, but this was offset by an increase in filings resulting in more cases starting than could be finalised.

The Court aims to have more than 75 per cent of its pending (active) applications less than 12 months old. The Court has, over the past five years, 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 2014–15 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 all 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.

Summary of performance

In 2014–15, 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 2014–15 Portfolio Budget Statements.

Table 3.2 Summary of performance—judicial services

Key performance indicators and deliverables Target/
deliverable
2013–14 target 2013–14 result*** 2014–15 target 2014–15 result 2014–15 target achieved
Deliverables
Number of finalisations per annum Final order finalisations 3000 2839 2822 3028 Yes
Interim order finalisations 3600 3270 3367 3333 No
Consent order finalisations 10,700 12,968 13,200 13,457 Yes
Other order finalisations* 300 279**** 375 290 No
KPIs**  
Clearance rate 100% 100% 98% 100% 99% No
Backlog indicators More than 75% of matters pending conclusion are less than 12 months old 75% 72% 75% 72% No
More than 75% of reserved judgments are waiting less than three months after the conclusion of trial 75% 50% 75% 56% No
* The Family Court 'Other Finalisations' estimates include other family law finalisations such as Hague, contempt, contraventions, child support appeals and enforcement summons.
** The Court also has a KPI about complaints. This is reported upon in Table 3.4
*** Updated figures due to data quality fixes on historical data which may have revised previously published figures.
**** This figure was incorrectly reported last year as 324.
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

Summary workload for 2014–15

The Court deals 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 summary caseload during 2014–15

Figure 3.2 Summary workload by application type, 2014–15

Application/Case Type Filed % Filed Finalised Pending
Final orders applications 2936 14% 3028 2982
Application in a case (Interim) 3476 17% 3333 1428
Consent orders applications 13,662 67% 13,457 1012
Other applications 323 2% 290 222
Total 20,397 100% 20,108 5644

This figure shows the type of applications filed in 2014–15.

Figure 3.3 Issues sought on Final Order cases filed, 2014–15

Issues sought on Applications for Final Orders  
Parenting only 30%
Financial only 55%
Parenting and financial 13%
Other 2%

This figure shows the issues sought on final order cases in 2014–15.

Case attrition

The Court's cases are made up of complex matters that often involve multiple parenting or financial issues that have higher levels of conflict between the parties. The parties in these cases are less likely to arrive at an agreement on their dispute and, as a result, will have a high chance of requiring a judicial decision after conducting a trial. Of all the cases finalised during 2014–15, about 40 per cent were placed into a judges docket which meant that efforts to have them settle did not work and so they needed to be managed by a judge towards proceeding to trial. As a result, 15.3 per cent of cases 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 rates in the Court's caseload, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows the attrition and settlement rates in the Court’s caseload from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

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 an agreement during the trial process.

Figure 3.5 provides the number of cases that are finalised at first instance trial. The Court had a similar number of trials in 2014–15 as the previous two years, reflecting about the same number of cases coming before the Court.

Figure 3.5 Cases finalised at first instance trial, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows the cases finalised at first instance trial from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

Number of finalisations

During 2014–15, the Court had the following finalisation deliverables it wished to obtain:

  • 2822 final order cases
  • 3367 interim orders applications
  • 13,200 consent orders applications, and
  • 375 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 2014–15, 3028 applications for final orders were finalised, about 7.3 per cent above the target and 6.7 per cent more than in 2013–14.

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

Figure 3.6 Final orders applications, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows final order applications from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

Applications in a case (interim)

During 2014–15, 3333 applications in a case were finalised, only 1.0 per cent less than the target and 1.9 per cent more than in 2013–14. These applications are associated with an existing case and typically can be dealt with in a shorter time.

Figure 3.7 displays five year trends in filings, finalisations and pending (active) applications.

Figure 3.7 Applications in a case, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows applications in a case from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

Consent orders

During 2014–15, 13,457 consent orders applications were finalised, which is 1.9 per cent more than the target and 3.8 per cent more than were finalised in 2013–14. These applications vary in complexity and are presented to the Court as an agreement between the parties to be considered and ratified by a registrar.

Figure 3.8 displays five year trends in filings, finalisations and pending (active) applications.

Figure 3.8 Consent orders applications, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows consent orders applications from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

Figure 3.9 displays five year trends in filings, finalisations and all applications.

Figure 3.9 All applications, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows all applications from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

Clearance rate

The Court aims to finalise at least the same number of cases that start in a year, and as such, is attempting to achieve a clearance rate of at least 100 per cent. 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 2014–15, the Court achieved a clearance rate of 99 per cent.

Figure 3.10 shows the five year trend in clearance rates.

Figure 3.10 All applications, clearance rates, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows the trend in clearance rates from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

Backlog indicators

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

Age of pending applications

The Court has a backlog of active cases to ensure there is sufficient level of workload to manage, while new cases commence and cases finalise during the year. The Court's goal is to ensure its pending cases are commensurate in size with its resources and it is continually adjusting as cases are filed and finalise, and in particular, those pending cases are not aged excessively.

The Court aims to have more than 75 per cent of its pending applications that are less than 12 months old. At 30 June 2015, the Court nearly met this target by achieving 72 per cent of pending applications being less than 12 months old, which is stable with last year.

The Court regularly reviews its oldest active cases to better understand the causes of their delay and to determine ways in which the older cases can be dealt with in a timely manner.

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, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows the trend in the age of pending cases from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

Figure 3.12 All applications, time pending, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows all applications, time pending, from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

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 2014–15, with 56 per cent of judgments not yet delivered at 30 June 2015 less than three months old and 44 per cent were more than three months.

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 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows reserved judgments outstanding less than three months as at 30 June 2010–11 to 2014–15.

Figure 3.14 Time for reserved judgments outstanding (pending), at 30 June 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows the time for reserved judgments outstanding at 30 June 2010–11 to 2014–15.

This measure is a snapshot at a particular point in the year and does not fully encapsulate the actual time it takes the Court to deliver a reserved judgment throughout the whole year (75 per cent within three months). The actual time for a judgment to be delivered is better explained in the following section.

Percentage of cases finalised

The Court aims to finalise cases within a timely manner, but is mindful that family law cases are particularly difficult and emotional, and the Family Court's decisions affect many lives, potentially for many years. As a result, 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 Statement about the time to finalise cases, the Court monitors 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 applications within 12 months, the other 25 per cent are the most complex applications, many of which cannot be expected to be managed within that timeframe.

During 2014–15 the Court finalised about 93 per cent of 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, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows applications filed within 12 months from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

Figure 3.16 All applications, time to finalise, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows all applications, time to finalise, from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

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 2014–15 as 505 (78 per cent) of the 647 reserved judgments (excluding judgments on appeal cases) were delivered within that timeframe.

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

Figure 3.17 Reserved judgments delivered within three months, 2010–11 to 2014–15 (all reserved judgments)

This figure shows reserved judgments delivered within three months from 2010–11 to 2014–15 (all reserved judgments).

Figure 3.18 Time to deliver reserved judgments 2010–11 to 2014–15 (all reserved judgments)

This figure shows the time to deliver reserved judgments from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

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 2014–15, the Court received 91 complaints relating to judges or judicial registrars—42 concerning judicial conduct and 49 on the time taken in delivery of a judgment.

This represented 0.5 per cent of all applications filed (20,397), under the Portfolio Budget Statements target of one per cent (when judicial services complaints and administrative complaints are combined they total 0.8 per cent).

The number of judicial services complaints received by the Court in 2014–15 is shown in Figure 3.19, which also shows the breakdown between complaints about judicial conduct and complaints about delays.

Figure 3.19 Total judicial services complaints, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows the total judicial services complaints from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

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 2010–11 to 2014–15

  2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 % Change
Appeals filed 367 374 318 330 389 18%
Appeals finalised 355 328 334 337 356 6%
Appeals pending 233 279 263 256 289 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 present 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 remain relatively steady for the past five years.

Note: The Court has revised its counting rule for these figures and as such the values in this section differ from those published in previous reports. The figure now excludes cases that did not have a first court event (i.e. withdrew or discontinued before appearing at court) and so they had not really proceeded beyond filing. These cases often did not have legal representation parties included on their records as it was often incomplete as parties had not provided this information at the time of filing (whether or not they were represented).

Figure 3.20 Proportion of litigants' representation status, finalised cases, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows the proportion of litigants’ representational status, finalised cases, from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

Figure 3.21 Proportion of litigants' representation status, at trials, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows the proportion of litigants’ representational status, at trials, from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

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 courts and significantly increased the number of such applications being filed with final order cases.

Figure 3.22 shows that owing to the changes highlighted above, the number of notices filed has increased. The relative increase in the rate of notices in proportion to final order cases filed in the Court also continues to increase.

Figure 3.22 Notices of child abuse or risk of family violence filed, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows notices of child abuse or risk of family violence filed, from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

* On 7 June 2012, new definitions and rules on Family Violence were enacted.

Figure 3.23 Proportion of final order cases in which a notice of child abuse or risk of family violence is filed, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows the proportion of final order cases in which a notice of child abuse or risk of family violence is filed from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

* On 7 June 2012, new definitions and rules on Family Violence were enacted.

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.

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

Figure 3.24 Magellan cases, 2010–11 to 2014–15

This figure shows Magellan cases from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

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.

These services are complemented by the services of the National Enquiry Centre (NEC) to which all family law 1300 telephone calls, enquiry emails and live chats are received in the first instance, as well as follow up enquiries from parties or lawyers about their Family Court or Federal Circuit Court files.

Summary of performance

During 2014–15, family law registries and the NEC provided a high level of service to clients and other users of the courts and to the judiciary of both courts. The NEC 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 continues to try to improve this area by streamlining process and introducing new initiatives. 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 2013–14 target 2013–14 result 2014–15 target 2014–15 result 2014–15 achieved
Deliverables
Telephone enquiries served* 238,400 356,004 270,800 330,178 Yes
Counter enquiries served* 187,400 255,792 150,000 225,101 Yes
Email enquiries responded to** 83,600 113,163 50,000 111,388 Yes
KPIs
75 per cent of all counter enquiries served within 20 minutes 75% 92% 75% 91% Yes
75 per cent of all applications lodged processed within two working days 75% 98% 75% 97% Yes
NEC 80 per cent of calls answered within 90 seconds 80% 28% 80% 34% No
80 per cent of email enquiries responded to within two working days 80% 100% 80% 100% Yes
Complaints***—1 per cent of total applications received 1% 0.7% 1% 0.8% Yes
* This figure is calls answered, not calls received at the PABX.
** NEC figures only. This figure covers emails sent in response to emails received by the courts, and emails sent by the courts as part of responding to telephone calls.
*** This figure includes complaints about the administration of the Court and judicial services complaints, for which detailed information is reported elsewhere in this Part.
Note: the Court has separated its reporting for KPIs and deliverables for greater transparency in its reporting for judicial services and client services. See also Table 3.1 for additional Portfolio Budget Statements reporting.

Detailed report on performance

Family law registries

There are 19 family law registries. These are in every state and territory (except Western Australia). Family law registries provide registry services to both the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court.

The key functions of the registries are to:

  • provide information and advice about court procedures, services and forms, external options and referrals to community organisations that enable clients to take informed and appropriate action
  • ensure that available information is provided in an accurate and timely fashion to support the best outcome through file management and quality assurance—from the initiation of proceedings, to hearing and to archiving
  • make the best use of court time by facilitating an orderly, secure flow of clients', files and exhibits
  • enhance community confidence and respect by responding to clients' needs and assisting with making the court experience a more positive one
  • progress cases by providing administrative services in accordance with court processes and to manage external relationships to assist with the resolution of cases
  • schedule and prioritise matters for hearing and intervention to achieve the earliest resolution or determination
  • monitor and control the flow of cases, and
  • assist in the evaluation of caseloads by reporting on trends and exceptions to facilitate improvements in processes and allocation of resources.

Counter enquiries

Staff working on the counters in family law registries handle 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.

It is estimated that the registries dealt with 225,101 counter enquiries in 2014–15 from clients or other people seeking information face-to-face. This compared to 255,792 counter enquiries in 2013–14.

In 2014–15, an estimated 91 per cent of clients were served within 20 minutes, against a target of 75 per cent, compared to 92 per cent in 2013–14.

Document processing

Family law registries receive and process applications lodged at registry counters and in the mail. The service target of 75 per cent being processed within two working days of receipt was significantly exceeded (97 per cent of applications were processed within that timeframe).

National Enquiry Centre

The NEC continued to provide family law telephone, email and Live Chat support services to the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court in 2014–15.

The NEC's responsibilities include:

  • first telephone contact to the courts via the 1300 number
  • first email contact to the courts via enquiries@familylawcourts.gov.au
  • first contact to the courts via Live Chat
  • a large proportion of telephone and email contacts from existing parties, lawyers and other court stakeholders
  • support for users of the Commonwealth Courts Portal including Family Court of Western Australia and the Federal Court
  • after hours service
  • printing of divorce orders
  • processing of proof of divorce requests, and
  • Twitter notifications of procedural and registry information.

Enquiries are received via three public channels including: telephone via the 1300 number; emails via enquiries@familylawcourts.gov.au; and via Live Chat. The NEC's focus is to provide parties and stakeholders with appropriate information as efficiently and simply as possible through these channels.

Callers to the 1300 number are given options depending on the nature of their call. These include divorce, portal support and general enquiries. These three options are supported by agents with the skill sets required to answer the enquiry. Emails and live chats are monitored by staff trained in responding to written requests.

With the growth of portal registrations, portal support was a major factor contributing to the work of the NEC in 2014–15.

The NEC regularly refers parties to various stakeholders including the Family Relationships Advice Line (FRAL), legal aid, government agencies and community legal centres. The NEC has maintained a close relationship with FRAL and regularly consults with them.

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

  • providing ongoing coaching and training
  • enhancing wellbeing by providing ergonomic training assessment to all staff.
  • 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 2014–15 include:

  • the introduction of an online interactive form and payment for proof of divorce requests. This has enhanced the ability for persons wishing to obtain proof of divorce from the courts' websites without having to interact with the Court and streamlined the back office processes, and
  • streamlined and enhanced reporting practices for staff including introducing basic reporting codes for telephone calls. Each staff member is required to utilise a 'transaction code' after each call to determine what the call was about.

Summary of NEC performance

  • The NEC did not meet the KPI for the percentage of calls answered within 90 seconds, but met all other performance targets. The NEC achieved a service level of 34 per cent which is up compared to 28 per cent last year.
  • Callers waited an average of five minutes and 17 seconds for their call to be answered, compared to five minutes and 21 seconds in 2013–14.
  • The average time of a call was four minutes and 22 seconds, compared to four minutes and 12 seconds in 2013–14.
  • The NEC received a total of 330,178 calls (compared 356,004 in 2013–14). Of these calls, 201,268 were queued to talk to a staff member.
  • There was a eight per cent decrease overall in calls received to the NEC compared with 2013–14. 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.
  • 20,430 calls were received for Portal support. The average time for a Portal call is significantly more, as technical support is required. The average time of a Portal call is six minutes and five seconds.
  • 6579 calls abandoned while queued. This is a decrease of 356 from 2013–14. 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.
  • 1608 calls were transferred to a family law registry by the NEC. NEC staff are aware of the importance of completing the transaction at the first point of contact, and only transfer calls if absolutely necessary.
  • 30,108 emails were sent in response to an email enquiry.
  • 74,842 emails were sent in response to a telephone enquiry, compared with 65,274 in 2013–14.
  • 11,951 proof of divorce requests were processed. This is a five per cent increase from 2013–14.
  • 82,446 divorce orders were printed and posted to clients.
  • 171 calls were received by the After Hours Service, of which 14 were referred to a registrar. Of these 13 orders were made by a judge.
  • 46,459 live chats or an average of 187 per day have been received since its launch in May 2014.

Table 3.5 National Enquiry Centre performance, 2010–11 to 2014–15

Performance indicators and internal targets 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15
80% of calls answered within 90 seconds 32% 45% 21% 28% 34%
Less than 5% of calls abandoned when queued 20% 8% 5% 3% 3%
Less than 10% of calls transferred to a registry 2% 1% 1% 1% 1%
80% of emails answered within two days 98% 100% 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
  • judicial complaints procedure, and
  • 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 2014–15, the Family Court recorded:

  • 62 complaints about administrative matters of which approximately 13 were found to be groundless. 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
  • 49 complaints about judicial delays and 42 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
  • 20 compliments.

At 62, the number of administrative complaints represented 0.3 per cent of all applications received. Combined with 91 judicial complaints (see judicial services complaints on page 64 for more detail) complaints represented 0.8 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 2014–15.

During 2014–15, the Court also recorded 87 complaints about matters as family law legislation, matters in other jurisdictions, family assessment processes and reports prepared by family consultants for judicial proceedings, and the conduct and outcomes of judicial proceedings. These are matters that may not be addressed by the administration of the Court as they concern matters of law reform on the one hand, and the conduct of specific judicial proceedings on the other.

Figure 3.25 Administration complaints issues 2014–15

This figure shows administration complaint issues from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

It is noted that this year the Court received a record number of compliments on staff performance and agency processes.

As a result of client feedback during 2014–15, aside from issues being resolved for clients on an individual basis, the Court was able to examine and improve the following:

  • communication procedures between registries with regard to document management
  • privacy issues relating to publication of judgments and court systems
  • instructions on forms
  • systems features, and
  • updating of documents published on the website.

In Focus

New court websites

Image of an iPad with the Family Court of Australia website.

In May 2015 the courts launched two new and improved websites.

At the same time the Family Law Courts website (www.familylawcourts.gov.au) was decommissioned and information from that site was transferred to the Family Court (www.familycourt.gov.au) and Federal Circuit Court (www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au) websites.

The decision to remove the Family Law Courts website and update the other two sites was made for several reasons:

  • outdated design and navigation
  • duplication of information between three sites
  • manual processing of things like court lists and judgments
  • confusion amongst litigants, and
  • different navigation between the three old sites.

Our goal was to improve the websites and make it easier for litigants to find the information they need. When people need to access the courts they are often in stress and we need to make the process as easy as possible.
Richard Foster PSM, Chief Executive Officer

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Changing technology

The new court websites are dynamic, more contemporary and based on client and stakeholder feedback. Some of the new features include:

  • automation of the Court lists
  • client landing pages and multiple entry points
  • responsive design for mobile and tablet users
  • new online services section
  • new How Do I section
  • new online subscription form, and
  • consistency in navigation between the two sites.

What next?

We have received some good feedback on the new websites, but they remain very much a work in progress.

The courts continue to encourage feedback and through this we have identified further improvements and refinements that need to be made. Changes that will be introduced over the coming months include:

  • introduction of Readspeaker and Google translate
  • refinements on search issues
  • ongoing plain-English updates
  • adjustments to how judgments are displayed, and
  • technical enhancements to responsible display of court lists.