About the Court

The Family Court of Australia, through its specialist judges and staff, resolves the 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 support families involved in complex family disputes by deciding matters according to law, promptly, courteously and effectively.

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
  • 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 Federal Circuit Court of Australia were merged into a single non-Corporate Commonwealth Entity under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act) from 1 July 2013, known as the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court.

The outcome and program framework of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court sets out the entity'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. Entities deliver programs that are government actions taken to deliver the stated outcomes. Entities 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.

Court Service Locations

Table 2.1 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 (RC); Hobart (J, R, FC, CS); Launceston R&R (CS, FC, JC, RC)

VICTORIA

Dandenong (R, FC, CS); Melbourne (J, R, FC, CS)

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

Table 2.1 Family Court of Australia service locations
 

Information Technology Initiatives

The Court is continuously seeking to enhance access to justice and to provide meaningful information necessary to advance litigation via its information technology systems. This includes 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.

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 2015–16 more than 313,000 such notifications were sent.

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

  • enabling document viewer functionality for Federal Court files: right clicking on an eLodged PDF in the documents filed menu now displays a list of unrepresented litigants and law firms that have viewed the document
  • available court dates now display the first appropriate return date up to 365 days away, plus the available dates over the next 80 days. Previously the search finished after 110 days, and
  • a new function to allow members of the public to pay setting down, hearing and financial conference fees online.

The following statistics highlight the significant growth in the number of Portal users as at 30 June 2016:

  • 6843 firms now registered (up from 5943 at 30 June 2015)
  • lawyer registrations have increased to 14,031 (up from 12,007 at 30 June 2015), and
  • total registered users now at 247,887 (up from 196,865 at 30 June 2015).
Table 2.2 Registered users of the Commonwealth Courts Portal, 2012–13 to 2015–16
  30 June 2013 30 June 2014 30 June 2015 30 June 2016
Number of law firms registered 4134 4965 5943 6843
         
Number of lawyers registered 8370 9921 12,007 14,031
Other users 109,738 143,171 184,858 233,856
Total registered users 118,108 153,092 196,865 247,887

 

Table 2.3 Documents eFiled in the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court, 2012–13 to 2015–16
  2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16
Adelaide 7121 8927 10,797 14,405
Albury 802 1114 1695 1938
Alice Springs 136 70 84 144
Brisbane 35,666 41,609 48,362 55,915
Cairns 1350 1918 2619 2827
Canberra 2914 3420 4160 5382
Coffs Harbour 1000 1452 1757 1899
Dandenong 7594 9251 10,339 13,948
Darwin 519 822 1071 1236
Dubbo 660 874 1257 1993
Hobart 700 1001 1255 1435
Launceston 876 902 976 1478
Lismore 1672 2274 2658 3310
Melbourne 31,650 37,747 45,774 55,774
Newcastle 6700 8734 11,469 14,757
Parramatta 11,101 13,441 17,729 24,097
Rockhampton 1311 1664 1909 2192
Sydney 15,372 18,998 23,925 30,924
Townsville 2787 2904 3758 4642
Wollongong 2352 3341 4004 5826
Total 132,283 160,463 195,598 244,122

In Western Australia there were 8810 documents eFiled during 2015–16 (up from 7460 in 2014–15).

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 modern browser-based technology and simplified processes for case management. The first new module was implemented in March 2014. Development of additional functionality continued during 2015–16 with functions for management of fees.

New functionality was also written to allow the courts to manage divorce hearings electronically. Those functions have been trialled in some registries during 2015–16.

Divorce moves online

Link to the How do I apply for a Divorce page
 

Significant work has been undertaken in both courts to develop a fully electronic divorce file. The final stage of the work – to enable the capacity to scan, browse and upload documents into Casetrack – was completed in January 2016.

Since the Family Court's Practice Direction No. 6 of 2003, almost all divorce applications are now filed in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. Moving to a completely electronic divorce file is a significant shift away from paper filing, to eFiling using the interactive online form in the Commonwealth Courts Portal.

eFiling has many benefits:

  • there is no need to visit or queue at registries
  • filing fee payments are processed securely online
  • 24/7 access to court files
  • less chance for errors in applications (step-by-step guide)
  • option to select the most suitable court date, and
  • the option to receive email notifications and alerts about the status of matters.

As part of this strategy the How do I... apply for divorce? web page has been redeveloped as a dynamic interactive page to assist clients with applying for divorce, and a new How do I... register for the Commonwealth Courts Portal and eFile an application for divorce? has also been launched.

The Application for Divorce Kit is no longer available on the website. Clients who for some reason (including no internet, no credit card, fee reduction for financial hardship, no printer/scanner) cannot eFile their divorce application, can contact the National Enquiry Centre to request an electronic or hard copy of the kit.

Online proof of divorce

An online proof of divorce request process was introduced in March 2015 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 process has been very successful and to date 12,149 requests have been made since the online interactive from was introduced.

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 wait numbers in real time

Lawyers and litigants can check wait times in the registry, in real time, from the courts' websites, allowing informed decisions about the best time to visit registries, when wait times are less. 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.

Live Chat

Link to live chat
 

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.

Live Chat statistics
  • 110,772 live chats since its launch
  • average 261 live chats per day
  • 31 per cent of questions are about Portal support
  • 69 per cent are general questions, and
  • applying for a divorce and parenting applications are the most popular Live Chat topics.

Twitter

Link to the Family Court Twitter feed
 

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 2015–16 the Court:

  • gained 1177 new followers, bringing the total number of followers to 2871
  • sent 320 tweets, made up of 57 plain text, 187 page links and 76 photo links – an average of over six tweets per week.
  • was re-tweeted 532 times, and
  • had a potential reach of just over 1.7 million.

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

You Tube

Link to the Family Court of Australia YouTube channel
 

The Family Court's YouTube channel has been operating since October 2013. There are a range of videos available to help litigants prepare for and understand court processes.

Three new videos were produced in 2015–16:

  • Why am I seeing a family consultant? 5–8 years
  • Why am I seeing a family consultant? 9–12 years, and
  • eFiling your family law matter in the Commonwealth Courts Portal.

There are now 11 videos on the channel; combined there has been 33,414 minutes watched and 8635 views.

The top three videos are: How to apply for divorce: serving divorce papers; Mediation – what to expect; and the Court Tour.

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

Infrastructure improvements

During 2015–16 a number of changes and upgrades were made to the IT infrastructure to meet the courts' needs and improve performance and stability.

Infrastructure improvements in the financial year included:

  • direct network drive mapping between registries, offering court staff seamless access to shared drives and files when travelling
  • implementation of a new remote access solution
  • courtroom technology replacement for Townsville registry
  • courtroom technology replacement for Canberra courtroom three
  • planning for the courts' merger with the Federal Court elevated; work commenced joining the Wide Area Network (WAN) and the Finance 1 system, and
  • IT infrastructure was installed in new premises in Sydney (Level 13, 80 William Street).

Registry Services Initiatives

Registry services delivery strategy – towards 2020

The Registry Services Delivery Strategy was developed in 2014 and a number of the key areas identified in the strategy have been progressed including the development of the electronic divorce. As part of the review cycle, the strategy was updated in February 2016 to reflect the progress since its development and rather than confine the strategy a set time-frame, it was deemed appropriate to extend the strategy towards 2020.

Client Service Senior Manager's Group

The Client Service Senior Managers' Group (CSSMG) comprises registry managers and registry and judicial service team leaders from the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. The CSSMG 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 by video-link, and communicated via the courts' Connections technology using a 'CSSMG community'. Using this technology, the CSSMG can discuss issues, provide reports, post blogs and upload files for discussion.

CSSMG was involved in several priority projects during 2015–16 including:

  • following the successful implementation of a 'no-cash' registry environment (effective 1 July 2015), the strategy to cease accepting cheque payments continued, with finalisation expected during 2016–17
  • assisting with the eDivorce pilot at Brisbane registry
  • promoting the use of the Portal for eFiling documents and refinement of eFiling procedures in response to the growth in eFiling
  • contributing to the development of an eLearning induction package for new chambers staff
  • assisting the courts' ongoing debt collection strategy (to reduce unpaid fees) by introducing an Event Based Fees process, which has automated the administration of fee payment for defended hearings and conciliation conferences
  • assisting with the implementation of the Family Law Amendment (Arbitration and Other Measures) Rules 2015. The new rules permit applications for arbitration, applications for orders in arbitration, issue of subpoena and applications to register an award – for court ordered arbitration, as well as voluntary arbitration
  • assisting with the implementation of the Family Court's rule changes in relation to subpoena management, to harmonise the approach of the production of subpoenas with that of the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001, thus contributing to further streamline family law procedures, and
  • continuing to refine safety planning processes in registries, and will be providing advice to the courts Family Violence Committee in due course.

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.

Internal Communication Initiatives

Intranet upgrade

Image showing the redesigned intranet which has been named The Source
 

The courts' new intranets were launched on 23 June 2016.

The intranets, which have been re-branded as 'The Source' to better reflect the role of providing a source of information, have a clean, professional new look and feel and include the following features:

  • user-friendly navigation including a mega-menu and streamlined access to information
  • 'Enterprise Search' which allows staff to search the intranets, websites and Connections in a single place
  • integration of some Connections functionality, including wiki and blog feeds and the ability to search profiles from the homepage
  • an 'Activity Stream' on the homepage, which alerts staff about new and updated policies, procedures and forms
  • broad coverage of news from across the courts, including images for the main news item
  • the ability to toggle between the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court intranets, and
  • a 'How do I' section.

IBM Connections

Connections has continued to provide a forum for planning activities and projects as well as supporting communication and collaboration across the courts.

The National Enquiry Centre utilise Connections as a knowledge base, training resource and communication tool and consider it a critical resource in responding to and assisting clients with their enquiries.

Key achievements in 2015–16 include:

  • an upgrade to version 5 which provides users with a more modern, clean and intuitive interface as well as new features which further support communication, collaboration and innovation across the courts
  • growth in the number of communities to 157 as at 30 June 2016
  • increased participation and use of wikis as staff discover how useful they are for providing a centralised platform to share information. There has been an increase in staff interacting around the information through comments and recommendations, and
  • continuing work on the registry services wiki which will support staff by providing improved access to procedures and processes. A card sort exercise was undertaken to assist in developing an improved structure for the information in the wiki.

Image of IBM Connections screen

International Framework for Court Excellence

The Chief Justice has committed the Family Court of Australia to holistically implementing the International Framework of Court Excellence (the framework). 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 put the central recommendations arising from that assessment into to action in order to improve the Court's performance. Some of these are detailed below.

Governance and communication

On the recommendations of the Court Excellence Committee, chaired by the Honourable Justice Murphy, the Chief Justice reformed the governance model of the Court. An early step was the establishment of a Court Policy Committee to oversee five new standing committees (see page 104 for more information on this committee governance structure). This arrangement has been especially relevant this past year because the Court has been required to define the resources required to support the Appeal Division and first instance judges in the context of the reforms arising from the Courts Administration Legislation Amendment Act 2016 (Cth).

Court user satisfaction

A critical area of the framework is taking account of court users' views of their experience of registry services. The courts have undertaken comprehensive court user satisfaction surveys and while over 75 per cent of those surveyed reported overall satisfaction with their experience at the registries, there are always areas to improve. For example, the Family Court has redesigned the website to make it more responsive to users' requirements for convenience, plain English and more effective transactional processes with the Court.

International collaboration

Link to publications on the International Consortium Resources website

The Court is committed to contributing to judicial administration and development at the international level, and also values the benefit of learning from other jurisdictions. With respect to the Court Excellence Framework, the Honourable Justice Murphy addressed the Singapore State Courts Conference in February 2016 titled Judiciary of the Future. His Honour co-presented with Judge Doherty of the District Court of New Zealand, sharing their respective experiences of the integrated implementation of the Court Excellence Framework. As well, the Court's publications on this implementation work are now available through the International Consortium Resources website at: www.courtexcellence.com/Resources/Other-Resources.aspx

Child Dispute Services

Child Dispute Services' family consultants provide high quality, expert and independent forensic social science advice to judges of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia in the best interests of children. The values and principles underpinning this advice are:

  • child focus
  • impartiality
  • transparency
  • accountability
  • a basis in evidence and in empirical research, and
  • professionally established in the disciplines of psychology and social work and the respective codes of conduct, regulatory frameworks and ethical requirements.

This is achieved by the delivery of:

  • assessment of parents and children
  • submission of a forensic report to the Court
  • written preliminary advice to the Court
  • oral advice to the Court, and
  • expert evidence in court.

Australian standards

Link to The Australian Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting

Following the release of the Australian Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting by the Chief Justice and the Chief Judge in 2015, this publication was widely distributed and promoted to all of those concerned with the family law system. This document provides information to decision makers, agencies and legal professionals involved in cases, as to what constitutes good practice in family assessments and reporting. It outlines a minimum standard of practice when conducting family assessments and preparing reports. A copy can be found at: http://www.familycourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fcoaweb/about/policies-and-procedures/asp-family-assessments-reporting

Noting the risks associated with family violence, this is an important addition to the practice of report writers (internal and external) and more widely, it promotes an understanding about what a family report is and the role of the expert.

Family violence screening

Family violence screening and risk assessment is an integral part of Child Dispute Services and ensures that family consultants provide informed advice to the courts in the best interests of children. A central tenet of, for example, s11F interventions undertaken by Child Dispute Services, is to screen for risks that may exist in a given matter and provide a detailed interim description to the courts via memoranda, oral advice, or a child and parent issues assessment. In line with this, the current professional directions for family consultants outline a series of key areas which they must examine during s11F assessments in order to formulate an (empirically based) opinion regarding family violence risk.

To enhance this practice, a decision was taken to source a structured family violence screening tool for family consultants to use during an interim s11F intervention. The preference was for a brief instrument, reliant on extant empirical findings, that possessed robust psychometric properties and was suitable for use with parties that are separated. The Mediator's Assessment of Safety Issues and Concerns Practitioner Version 2 (MASIC-2P; Beck, Holtzwoth-Munroe & Applegate, 2012) was deemed to be the best fit for the Australian family law context. MASIC was adapted for use by family consultants and tested in Brisbane and Melbourne.

The courts were particularly interested to refine questions which include behaviourally-based questions; questions on coercive and controlling behaviour; and questions which would solicit reports of any violence before separation and since separation (noting that homicide and in particular, uxoricide, is found to more likely occur in the first year or even months, after separation.

The trials commenced in April 2015 in Melbourne and Brisbane. To enable family consultants to prepare prior to the consultation with parents, the questionnaire was completed online by parties before they attended the registries for their s11F appointment. Parties were sent an email containing instructions and a URL.

The pilots confirmed that this screening approach is highly informative for the family consultant and assists them in refining early assessment to better take account of 'red flag' risk factors. Markers of family violence can enable a system of responses and potentially prevent tragedy. The evaluation report can be made available on request.

Professional development (family violence)

It is critical that family consultants' practice is based on research and an understanding of the dynamics associated with family violence. Ongoing development and learning is supported by a Connections core knowledge site which can be accessed by all consultants and contains up-to-date research. Desktop eLearning is also available and a series of new modules were developed, the first being on family violence. The new induction framework is rigorous and ensures that incoming family consultants are given the best opportunity to be successful in the unique role of family assessment and forensic court reporting.

Significantly, a continuous professional development framework was introduced requiring family consultants to accrue points for undertaking development in critical practice areas. This initiative brings our service into alignment with the requirements of professional bodies such as the Australian Psychological Society. For more information on family consultant professional development activities in 2015–16, see page 134.

A highlight for 2015–16 was a conference for all court-employed family consultants in Melbourne. Dr Robert Simon attended as resident at this conference. Dr Simon is a well-respected forensic psychologist, experienced custody evaluator of 30 years and renowned author in the field of family law assessments.

The conference included training in how to deal effectively and responsibly with cross-examination; techniques in observing parent and child interaction; family violence assessment and screening; refreshed professional directions for assessment and reporting; the risk of bias; mental health disorders and parenting capacity; and working effectively with children in complex settings, including Indigenous children.

Child Dispute Services selectively attended conferences including the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (Seattle) to ensure that the service remains up to date and leading in this specialist field.

New material for children

Child Disputes Services has supported the courts' Children's Committee initiative to revamp the material for children on the courts' websites. These pages are coined 'Kids and young people' and specific landing pages are now available for children 5–8 years, 9–12 years and teenagers. A key project for 2015–16 was the development of two new videos for children who are scheduled to meet with a family consultant at the Court. More information about these videos can be found at page 80.

Access and Inclusion

The Court continues 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 (to be developed in 2016–17), 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.

Cultural competency eLearning

The courts' cultural competency eLearning package, which forms part of the courts' Multicultural Plan, was launched in October 2015. The package consists of six modules which can be completed over a period of time, allowing staff to build on knowledge and awareness.

The eLearning package aims to:

  • improve knowledge and understanding of the wide range of culturally diverse communities who access the courts
  • use critical reflection to understand the impact of stereotypes, and
  • provide staff with practical skills to adapt and deliver services to best meet the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse clients.

The eLearning package contributes to the courts' overall access and equity outcomes by providing staff with information to assist in reducing the barriers experienced by culturally and linguistically diverse clients when accessing court services.

Image showing the access and inclusion framework which includes Mental Health Support Plan, Multicultural Plan, Family Violence Plan, Indigenous Action Plan and Disability Action Plan
 

International Cooperation

Indonesia

The Family Court continues to work with the Supreme Court of Indonesia and the Religious Courts of Indonesia to address access to justice issues for disadvantaged groups, with particular regard to family and domestic violence.

The Chief Justice and Leisha Lister appeared before the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT) to report on the human rights issues confronting women and girls in the Indian Ocean-Asia Pacific region.

Chair of the JSCFADT's Human Rights sub-committee, The Honourable Philip Ruddock MP, stated that the inquiry was a timely review of the obstacles impeding women and girls from realising their full potential as human beings—as social, economic and political participants— in a very diverse region.

Recommendation three of the report states: The Committee recommends that the Australian Government encourage the Australian courts to expand their investment in the work of making the registration of marriages and births more accessible in Indonesia; and expand its efforts to pursue similar work where it can facilitate reform in other countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

Legal identity documents in Indonesia

In Indonesia, legal identity documents, including birth, marriage and divorce certificates, are required to enrol in school, receive benefits from government social protection programmes, register to vote, establish head of household status, claim the right to assets and inheritance, and to be eligible for certain jobs.

Registration of birth, marriage, divorce and death are also important for the state to produce accurate vital statistics that are used to plan and allocate budgets for various government social and economic programmes. But despite their importance, millions of eligible Indonesians – particularly those in low income and rural households – do not have them. In the poorest 30 per cent of Indonesian households, 55 per cent of couples do not have a marriage certificate and 75 per cent of their children do not have a birth certificate.

The Family Court of Australia, the Supreme Court of Indonesia and the Religious Courts of Indonesia have worked together to strengthen the delivery of affordable and accessible court services for a number of years.

The cooperation has focussed on enhancing and broadening access to the courts in family matters (such as marriage and divorce certificates) for women, the poor, those living in remote areas and other marginalised groups.

Including:

  • continued support to improve client services and the quality of information provided by court staff, and
  • strengthened delivery of services to the justice seekers through court fee waivers, circuit court hearings and legal aid posts in courts.

The Overseas Development Institute, a respected independent voice in international development, was commissioned by the Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice (AIPJ) to conduct an evaluation of the role of civil society in justice reform in Indonesia including AIPJ's contribution and two of the three case studies highlight the role the Family Court of Australia has played in contributing to the enhancement of civil society organisations' contributions to justice reform in Indonesia. The full report can be found at:
https://www.odi.org/publications/10490-civil-society-and-justice-reform-indonesia

In particular the case study on legal identity, https://www.odi.org/publications/10498-realising-right-legal-identity-indonesia, examines efforts of civil society organisations and the AIPJ to expand access for Indonesian citizens to legal identity documents, particularly during the AIPJ project period (2011–2015). It covers efforts to change policy and to implement policies, including, most recently, mobile and integrated services which began in 2014.

In Focus: Harmony Day 2016

Harmony Day is held on 21 March each year and coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

It is a day of cultural respect, widely celebrated across schools, childcare centres, community groups, churches, businesses and federal, state and local government agencies.

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court strive for high quality, accessible and client-based services for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) clients that support the resolution of their legal disputes. The courts participate in Harmony Day each year to recognise and celebrate the rich cultural diversity that exists in our workplaces.

Court employees were asked to nominate colleagues within their registries who exceed in providing service to CALD clients, and/or who actively seek to raise awareness of the importance of working in a diverse and multicultural workplace.  

The winners of the 2016 Harmony Day award were:

Gloria Katrib – Parramatta

Image of Gloria Katrib receiving her Harmony Day award from Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO
 

Gloria was nominated by two of her colleagues who are proud to have her as a client service officer at the National Enquiry Centre. Gloria has worked for the courts for 10 years and strives to ensure access to justice and clear communication for CALD clients. She is fluent in Arabic and uses her multi-lingual skills to assist clients. Her understanding of the cultural traditions and language assists other staff in understanding how to best assist CALD clients within the professional constraints of the role.

Lyn Imlach – Dandenong

Image of Lyn Imlach, winner of the 2016 Harmony Day award
 

Lyn ensures the delivery of accessible high quality services for CALD clients and actively promotes the importance of working in a diverse workplace. These ideals are regularly reinforced during discussions at team meetings and during the working day. As a team leader, Lyn encourages her staff to be aware of the importance of dealing with clients as individuals, and to tailor the provision of information for each individual client and their needs.