Annual Performance Statement

Judicial services

Introductory statement

I, Warwick Soden, as the accountable authority of the Family Court of Australia, present the 2015–16 annual performance statements of the Family Court of Australia, as required under paragraph 39(1)(a) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act). In my opinion, these annual performance statements are based on properly maintained records, accurately reflect the performance of the entity, and comply with subsection 39(2) of the PGPA Act.

[Signed in the hard copy]
 

WG Soden
Principal Registrar and Chief Executive Officer
Federal Court of Australia

Family Court of Australia purpose

The Family Court's objective is to support Australian families involved in complex family disputes by deciding matters according to the law, promptly, courteously and effectively. This involves:

  • the provision of 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.

Results

Performance criterion

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 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) applicable to the Court are identified in the 2015–16 Portfolio Budget Statements and in the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Corporate Plan 2015–2019.

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court has one outcome and one program on which it reports in 2015–16. 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 and support services.
Program 1.1 Family Court and Federal Circuit Court

Whilst the Court's reporting is for the single program, reporting information is provided in two streams:

  • judicial services (maintaining an environment that enables judicial officers to make determinations), and
  • registry services (provision of effective and efficient registry services).

The Court uses this approach to provide clearer reporting of its performance against its KPIs.

The first part of this chapter discusses the performance of judicial services in 2015–16. The registry services performance statement and associated information can be found on page 59.

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 have the biggest affect on 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 assets (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.

Table 3.1 Key performance indictors – judicial services, 2015–16
Judicial Services KPIs Target
Clearance rate (final orders) 100%
Cases pending conclusion that are less than 12 months old 75%
Reserved judgments are waiting less than three months after the conclusion of the trial 75%
Number of complaints as a percentage of applications received 1%

Criterion source

  • Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Corporate Plan 2015–2019.
  • Component 1.1.1 key performance indicators, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Portfolio Budget Statements 2015–16.

Result against performance criterion

Summary of performance

In 2015–16, the Court achieved one judicial KPI and was unable to achieve three.

Table 3.2 summarises the Court's results in delivering judicial services against the KPIs from 2011–12 to 2015–16.

Table 3.2 Summary of performance against judicial services KPIs, 2011–12 to 2015–16
Judicial services KPIs 2011–12 result 2012–13 result 2013–14 result 2014–15 result 2015–16 result
Clearance rate more than 100% 100% 101% 98% 99% 99%
75% of matters pending conclusion are less than 12 months old 72% 71% 72% 72% 70%
75% of reserved judgments are waiting less than three months after the conclusion of trial (at 30 June) 50% 51% 50% 56% 48%
Complaints*—1% of total applications received 0.6% 0.9% 0.7% 0.8% 0.7%
Number of KPI achieved 2 2 1 1 1
* This figure includes complaints about the administration of the Court and judicial services complaints, for which detailed information is reported elsewhere in this Part.

Analysis of performance against purpose

Summary workload for 2015–16

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 2015–16.

Figure 3.2 Summary workload by application type, 2015–16
Application/Case Type Filed % Filed Finalised Pending
Final orders applications 3017 15% 2979 3105
Application in a case (Interim) 3616 18% 3521 1497
Consent orders applications 13,458 66% 13,357 1052
Other applications 327 1% 342 190
Total 20,418 100% 20,199 5844

 Figure 3.2 Pie graph showing Summary workload by application type, 2015-16


 

Figure 3.3 Issues sought on Final Order cases filed, 2015–16
Issues sought on Applications for Final Orders  
Parenting only 32%
Financial only 52%
Parenting and financial 14%
Other 2%

Figure 3.3 Pie graph showing Issues sought on Final Order cases filed, 2015-16


 

Case attrition

The Court's cases are made up of complex matters that often involve multiple parenting or financial issues having 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 2015–16, fewer than 37 per cent were placed into a judge's docket which meant that efforts to help clients reach a settlement were unsuccessful and so they needed to be managed by a judge towards proceeding to trial.

Figure 3.4 shows the changing settlement and attrition trend of the Court's completed cases and the case management phase where they finalised.

Figure 3.4 Attrition and settlement trend in the Court's caseload, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.4 Attrition and settlement trend in the Court's caseload, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

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.

Figure 3.5 Cases finalised at first instance trial, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.5 Bar graph showing Cases finalised at first instance trial, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Number of finalisations

During 2015–16, the Court had the following finalisation deliverables it expected to obtain:

  • 2832 final order cases
  • 3413 interim orders applications
  • 14,518 consent orders applications, and
  • 421 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 2015–16, 2979 applications for final orders were finalised, about five per cent above the target, but approximately the same as 2014–15.

Figure 3.6 Final orders applications, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.6 Bar graph showing Final orders applications, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Applications in a case (interim)

During 2015–16, 3521 applications in a case were finalised, about three per cent more than the target and six per cent more than in 2014–15. These applications are associated with an existing case and typically can be dealt with in a shorter time.

Figure 3.7 Applications in a case, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.7 Bar graph showing Applications in a case, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Consent orders

During 2015–16, 13,357 consent orders applications were finalised, which although eight per cent less than the target, is about the same as were finalised in 2014–15. 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 3.6 to Figure 3.9 display five year trends in filings, finalisations and pending (active) applications.

Figure 3.8 Consent orders applications, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.8 Bar graph showing Consent orders applications, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Figure 3.9 All applications, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.9 Bar graph showing All applications, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

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 2015–16, 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, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.10 Bar graph showing All applications, clearance rates, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

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.

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 less than 12 months old. At 30 June 2016, the Court nearly met this target by achieving 70 per cent of pending applications being less than 12 months old, compared with 72 per cent at 30 June 2015.

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, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.11 Bar graph showing Age of pending applications, clearance rates, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Figure 3.12 All applications, time pending, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.12 Bar graph showing All applications, time pending, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

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 2015–16, with 48 per cent of judgments still not delivered at 30 June 2016 less than three months old.

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 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.13 Bar graph showing Reserved judgments outstanding (pending) less than three months, as at 30 June 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Figure 3.14 Time for reserved judgments outstanding (pending), at 30 June 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.14 Bar graph showing Time for reserved judgments outstanding (pending), at 30 June 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

This measure is a snapshot at 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. 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 ensuing legal matters can cause. It is difficult to set and achieve a blanket timeliness target because the number of variables affecting the parties involved in each case has multiple 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 continues to internally monitor the age of its finalised cases to assist with determining resource allocation and the effort required to dispose cases.

Age of finalised applications

The Court's internal target for timeliness to finalisation is based on previous case history and its case management processes. The ability to get clients before the Court relies heavily on various factors: the Court's case management principles; delays between court interventions; available resources; and the clients. The Court aims to finalise 75 per cent of cases within 12 months, the other 25 per cent are the most complex cases, many of which cannot be expected to be managed within that timeframe.

During 2015–16 the Court finalised about 93 per cent of cases (applications) within 12 months which is above the target and remains steady for the past five years.

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

Figure 3.15 Applications finalised within 12 months, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.15 Bar graph showing Applications finalised within 12 months, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Figure 3.16 All applications, time to finalise, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.16 Bar graph showing All applications, time to finalise, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

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 2015–16 as 570 (80 per cent) of the 715 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, 2011–12 to 2015–16 (all reserved judgments)

Figure 3.17 Bar graph showing Reserved judgments delivered within three months, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Figure 3.18 Time to deliver reserved judgments, 2011–12 to 2015–16 (all reserved judgments)

Figure 3.18 Column graph showing Time to deliver reserved judgments, 2011-12 to 2015-16 (all reserved judgments)
 

Judicial services complaints

Judges are accountable through the public nature of their work, the requirement that they give reasons for their decisions, and the scrutiny of their decisions on appeal.

In 2015–16, the Court received 81 complaints relating to judges or judicial registrars— 41 concerning judicial conduct and 40 on the time taken in delivery of a judgment.

This represented 0.4 per cent of all applications filed (20,418), under the Portfolio Budget Statements target of one per cent (when judicial services complaints and administrative complaints are combined they total 0.7 per cent).

The number of judicial services complaints received by the Court in 2015–16 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, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.19 Column graph showing Total judicial services complaints, 2011-12 to 2015-16 (all reserved judgments)
 

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, 2011–12 to 2015–16
  2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 % change
Appeals filed 374 318 330 389 371 -5%
Appeals finalised 328 334 337 356 354 -1%
Appeals pending 279 263 256 289 270 -7%

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, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.20 Column graph showing Proportion of litigants' representation status, finalised cases, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Figure 3.21 Proportion of litigants' representation status, at trials, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.21 Column graph showing Proportion of litigants' representation status, at trials, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

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 Child Abuse, Family Violence 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 in 2015–16, the trend towards filing a Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk of Family Violence has increased, adding additional workload to court resources. This reflects the growing awareness of family violence within the community and the need for litigants to raise family violence in conformity with the 2012 amendments. It also reflects the increasing complexity of the Court's cases and the extent to which violence is an element in most of them.

Figure 3.22 Notices of child abuse or risk of family violence filed, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.22 Column graph showing Proportion of litigants' representation status, at trials, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Figure 3.23 Proportion of final order cases in which a notice of child abuse or risk of family violence is filed, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.23 Column graph showing Proportion of final order cases in which a notice of child abuse or risk of family violence is filed, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

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, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 3.24 Column graph showing Magellan cases, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Annual Performance Statement

Registry services

Introductory statement

I, Warwick Soden, as the accountable authority of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court administration, present the 2015–16 annual performance statements of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court administration, as required under paragraph 39(1)(a) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act). In my opinion, these annual performance statements are based on properly maintained records, accurately reflect the performance of the entity, and comply with subsection 39(2) of the PGPA Act.

[Signed in hard copy]
 

WG Soden
Principal Registrar and Chief Executive Officer
Federal Court of Australia

Family Court and Federal Circuit Court entity purpose

The objective of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court entity is to assist the respective courts to achieve their stated purposes by:

  • maintaining an environment that enables judicial officers to make determinations
  • providing effective and efficient registry services
  • effectively and efficiently managing resources
  • providing effective information and communication techniques.

Results

Performance criterion

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 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) applicable to the Court are identified in the 2015–16 Portfolio Budget Statements and in the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Corporate Plan 2015–2019.

Whilst the Court's reporting is for the single program, reporting information is provided in two streams:

  • judicial services (maintaining an environment that enables judicial officers to make determinations), and
  • registry services (provision of effective and efficient registry services.

The Court uses this approach to provide clearer reporting of its performance against its key performance indicators.

The following discusses the performance of registry services in 2015–16.

Table 3.4 Key performance indictors – registry services, 2015–16
KPIs Estimated actual
National Enquiry Centre telephone enquiries answered within 90 seconds 80%
Counter enquiries served within 20 minutes 75%
Email enquiries responded to within two working days 80%
Applications lodged processed within two working days 75%

Criterion source

  • Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Corporate Plan 2015–2019.
  • Component 1.1.3 key performance indicators, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Portfolio Budget Statements 2015–16.

Result against performance criterion

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 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.

During 2015–16, 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, as well as a 30 per cent increase in the number of live chats received.

Three of the four registry services KPIs were 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 such as Live Chat. The KPI for complaints as a percentage of total applications was met this year.

Table 3.5 summarises the performance of the various registry services functions of the Court against Portfolio Budget Statement KPIs from 2011–12 to 2015–16. 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.

Table 3.5 Summary of performance against registry services KPIs, 2011–12 to 2015–16
Registry Services KPIs 2011–12 result 2012–13 result 2013–14 result 2014–15 result 2015–16 result
75% of all counter enquiries are served within 20 minutes 88% 93% 92% 91% 92%
75% of applications lodged are processed within two working days 97% 97% 98% 97% 98%
80% of calls answered within 90 seconds (NEC only) 33% 21% 28% 34% 24%
80% of emails answered within two days (NEC data only) 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
Number of KPI/targets achieved 3 3 3 3 3

Analysis of performance against purpose

Family law registries

There are 19 family law registries. These are in every state and territory (except Western Australia). Family law registries provide 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. Registry services staff provide 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 217,628 counter enquiries in 2015–16 from clients or other people seeking information face-to-face. This compared to 225,101 counter enquiries in 2014–15.

In 2015–16, an estimated 92 per cent of clients were served within 20 minutes, against a target of 75 per cent, compared to 91 per cent in 2014–15.

Document processing

Family law registries receive and process applications lodged at registry counters and in the mail. The service target of 75 per cent being processed within two working days of receipt was significantly exceeded (98 per cent of applications were processed within that timeframe).

National Enquiry Centre

The National Enquiry Centre (NEC) continued to provide family law telephone, email and Live Chat support services to the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court in 2015–16.

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 from the websites
  • 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 the Family Court of Western Australia and the Federal Court of Australia
  • after hours service
  • printing of divorce orders
  • printing of event-based fee statements
  • processing of proof of divorce requests, and
  • Twitter notifications of procedural and registry information.

Enquiries are received via three public channels: 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 2015–16.

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.

Summary of NEC performance

  • The NEC did not meet the KPI for the percentage of calls answered within 90 seconds, achieving a service level of 24 per cent, which is down compared to 34 per cent last year.
  • Callers waited an average of seven minutes and 30 seconds for their call to be answered, compared to five minutes and 17 seconds in 2014–15.
  • The average time of a call was five minutes and two seconds, compared to four minutes and 22 seconds in 2014–15.
  • The NEC received a total of 286,476 calls (compared to 330,178 calls in 2014–15). Of these calls, 158,100 were queued to talk to a staff member. The 13 per cent decrease in calls to the NEC (compared with calls in 2014–15) can be attributed to better service at the first point of contact by emailed information; there being no requirement to call back; better structured and more interactive information on the websites; increased use of the Portal; and increased use of Live Chat.
  • 28,584 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 seven minutes.
  • 5352 calls (or four per cent of calls) abandoned while queued. This met the NEC's internal target of less than five per cent of calls abandoned when queued.
  • 696 calls were transferred to a family law registry by the NEC. Staff are aware of the importance of completing the transaction at the first point of contact, and only transfer calls if absolutely necessary. This represents only one per cent of calls transferred, which is significantly less than the internal target of less than 10 per cent of calls transferred to a registry.
  • 24,036 emails were sent in response to an email enquiry.
  • 73,152 emails were sent in response to a telephone enquiry, compared with 74,842 in 2014–15.
  • 12,348 proof of divorce requests were processed. This is a three per cent decrease from 2014–15, but indicative of better self-service options now available.
  • 86,880 divorce orders were printed and posted to clients.
  • 178 calls were received by the After Hours Service, of which seven were actioned by a registrar. Of these, six orders were made by a judge.
  • 66,336 live chats, or an average of 261 per day, were received this year. This is a 30 per cent increase since last year.
Table 3.6 National Enquiry Centre performance, 2011–12 to 2015–16
KPIs and internal targets 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16
80% of calls answered within 90 seconds 45% 21% 28% 34% 24%
Less than 5% of calls abandoned when queued* 8% 5% 3% 3% 4%
Less than 10% of calls transferred to a registry* 1% 1% 1% 1% 1%
80% of emails answered within two days 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
* Internal NEC target.

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 homepage of the Family Court website (www.familycourt.gov.au).

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 2015–16, the Family Court recorded:

  • 55 complaints about administrative matters. These are complaints relating to family law registries which service both the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court, and include complaints about court administrative procedures and processes, staff personal conduct, privacy, security and the client feedback process
  • 40 complaints about judicial delays and 41 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
  • 30 compliments.

At 55, the number of administrative complaints represented 0.3 per cent of all applications received. Combined with 81 judicial complaints (see judicial services complaints on page 54 for more detail) complaints represented 0.7 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 2015–16.

During 2015–16, the Court also recorded 109 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, 2015–16

Figure 3.25 Pie graph showing Administration Complaints, 2015-16
 

As a result of client feedback during 2015–16, aside from issues being resolved for clients on an individual basis, the Court was able to implement the following:

  • more helpful information added to brochures and the websites and corrections made to erroneous contact information
  • review of sound level of recorded telephone information provision service
  • revisions to publications with regard to the definition of family; wording changed in the children's pages of the website; adjustments made to the voiceover for videos; and a review of content of printed material for next print run, and
  • consideration of facility to capture and save online chat facility.

In Focus: Let's Talk: Cultural Competence eLearning

Image showing the Cultural Competency eLearning page
 

The Let's Talk Cultural Competence eLearning package provides court 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.

Let's Talk: Cultural Competency is designed specifically for those in courts who provide services to people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) backgrounds. While much of the content applies to all courts, specific examples and practices are focused on family law.

The training includes:

  • An Introduction to Cultural Competency
  • Module 1: Multicultural Australia
  • Module 2: Understanding culture
  • Module 3: Intercultural communication
  • Module 4: New arrivals to Australia
  • Module 5: Working with interpreters and translators
  • Module 6: Using plain English

This program is adapted from Western Australian Government, Office of Multicultural Interests' Diverse WA cultural competency training program.