Annual Performance Statement

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 4.1.

Figure 4.1 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.

This chapter reports on the performance of the Appeal Division in 2015–16. Although there are no specific KPIs for appeals, the Court reports on this as per its purpose of providing national coverage as the appellate court in family law matters.

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

Appeal Division

Sections 21A, 22(2AA), (2AB) and (2AC) of the Family Law Act 1975 provide for an Appeal Division for the Family Court.

The members of the Appeal Division of the Court are the Chief Justice, the Deputy Chief Justice and such other judges, not exceeding nine in number, as are assigned to the Appeal Division.

At 30 June 2016, the judges assigned to the Appeal Division were:

  • Justice Finn
  • Justice May
  • Justice Thackray (Chief Judge of the Family Court of Western Australia)
  • Justice Strickland
  • Justice Ainslie-Wallace
  • Justice Ryan
  • Justice Murphy
  • Justice Aldridge, and
  • Justice Kent.

The Full Court of the Family Court of Australia is made up of three or more judges of the Court; the majority must be members of the Appeal Division (Family Law Act 1975 s 4).

Appeals

The appellate jurisdiction of the Family Court is defined in Part X of the Family Law Act 1975, in Part VIII of the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988 and Part 7 of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 (the 'Child Support Acts').

An appeal lies to the Full Court from a decree of the Family Court, constituted otherwise than as a Full Court, exercising jurisdiction under the Family Law Act and (with leave) under the Child Support Acts.

An appeal also lies to the Full Court of the Family Court from a decree of the Family Court of Western Australia, or the Supreme Court of a state or a territory constituted by a single judge, exercising jurisdiction under the Family Law Act and (with leave) under the Child Support Acts.

An appeal also lies to the Family Court of Australia from a decree of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia exercising jurisdiction under the Family Law Act and (with leave) the Child Support Acts, and from a decree of the Magistrates Court of Western Australia constituted by a Family Law Magistrate.

The jurisdiction of the Court in relation to such appeals is to be exercised by a Full Court unless the Chief Justice considers it appropriate for a single judge to exercise the jurisdiction of the Court (s 94AAA(3)).

Full Court sittings

During 2015–16, the Full Court sat for 23 weeks (including in some weeks judges hearing appeals in different locations or two Full Courts sitting simultaneously in the same location). The Court publishes details of these sittings.

In addition, the Full Court conducts special sittings as required, for example to hear urgent appeals.

Judges of the Appeal Division also hear appeals from the Federal Circuit Court as a single judge exercising the jurisdiction of the Court during other weeks of the year.

Administration of appeals

Appeals are administered by an Appeals Registrar in three regions:

  • Northern—Queensland, northern New South Wales and the Northern Territory
  • Eastern—eastern, western and southern New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, and
  • Southern—Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.

Western Australia is separately administered by a registrar of the Family Court of Western Australia.

Analysis of performance against purpose

Trends in appeals

As a result of data quality activities conducted on appellate proceedings in the Court's electronic case management system, the Court has updated the historical data for the previous years. This means that figures published in this section may not be the same as those published in previous annual reports.

Many factors affect the number of appeals commenced in the Court. These include the number of first instance matters disposed of in the two courts and whether legislative changes impact the jurisdiction of the Court.

The number of appeals filed in 2015–16 decreased by five per cent from 389 in 2014–15 to 371. In 2014–15 appeals filed had increased by 18 per cent to 389 from 330 in 2013–14. The number of appeals finalised decreased slightly from 356 to 354. The pending (active) cases as at 30 June 2016 was 270, which has decreased by seven per cent from 289 as at 30 June 2015.

The Court is working hard to increase the disposal rate for Family Court appeals. In 2015–16, 17 per cent more appeals from the Family Court of Australia were finalised than the previous year (168 – increased from 143).

The largest proportion of appeals is filed in the Eastern region. The Court has increased the number of sittings in this region (predominantly sitting in Sydney but extending to other locations, for example Canberra, as appropriate) and anticipates this will reflect in the clearance rates in future financial years.

There was a seven per cent decrease in the number of appeals filed from decisions of the Federal Circuit Court (201 cases), whilst appeals filed from decisions of the Family Court decreased slightly to 170.

Forty-one of 185 appeals from the Federal Circuit Court finalised in 2015–16 were dealt with by a single judge and did not require the convening of a bench of three or more judges.

Table 4.1 and Figure 4.2 show the trend in Notices of Appeal filed, finalised and pending during the last five financial years.

Table 4.1 Notice of Appeals filed, finalised and pending by jurisdiction, 2011–12 to 2015–16
Filed 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 % change
from 2014–15
to 2015–16
Family Court of Australia 161 152 151 173 170 -2%
Federal Circuit Court of Australia 213 166 179 216 201 -7%
Appeals filed 374 318 330 389 371 -5%
Per cent from Family Court of Australia 43% 48% 46% 44% 46% 2%
Per cent from Federal Circuit Court of Australia 57% 52% 54% 56% 54% -2%

 

Finalised 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 % change
from 2014–15
to 2015–16
Family Court of Australia 140 150 150 143 168 17%
Federal Circuit Court of Australia 188 184 187 213 186 -13%
Appeals finalised 328 334 337 356 354 -1%
Per cent from Family Court of Australia 43% 45% 45% 40% 47% 7%
Per cent from Federal Circuit Court of Australia 57% 55% 55% 60% 53% -7%

 

Pending 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 % change
from 2014–15
to 2015–16
Family Court of Australia 141 143 144 174 145 -17%
Federal Circuit Court of Australia 138 120 112 115 125 9%
Appeals pending 279 263 256 289 270 -7%
Per cent from Family Court of Australia 51% 54% 56% 60% 54% -6%
Per cent from Federal Circuit Court of Australia 49% 46% 44% 40% 46% 6%

Figure 4.2 Notice of appeals, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 4.2 - Notice of appeals, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

In addition to the Notice of Appeal, appellate proceedings may include a cross-appeal and a number of other applications filed seeking orders directly relating to the appeal. These may include applications for extension of time to appeal, to reinstate, expedite, stay or summarily dismiss appeals, security for costs, provision of transcript and to receive further evidence. Such applications are a significant resource burden on the Appeal Division and they generally require interlocutory hearings and judgments prior to, and on occasions during the hearing of the appeal.

Table 4.2 shows the number of these additional applications that are filed.

Table 4.2 Other applications filed in appeal cases, 2011–12 to 2015–16
Filed 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16
Application for Extension of Time 39 28 63 63 45
Application in an Appeal 237 235 249 250 290
Notice of Cross-Appeal 16 10 11 14 11

The proportion of family law appeals arising from decrees of the Family Court has risen slightly from 44 per cent in 2014–15 to 46 per cent in 2015–16.

Figure 4.3 shows the proportion of appeal filings resulting from a decree made either in the Federal Circuit Court or in the Family Court.

Figure 4.3 Proportion of notices of appeal filed by jurisdiction of decree, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 4.3 - Proportion of notices of appeal filed by jurisdiction of decree, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

The proportion of appeals that were allowed or dismissed during 2015–16 decreased slightly by three per cent to 55 per cent.

During 2015–16, the total number of appeals abandoned or withdrawn increased as compared with 2014–15. The number of abandoned appeals increased from 57 to 64 and the number of withdrawn appeals increased from 91 to 95.

Figure 4.4 shows the trend in the manner in which appeals were finalised.

Figure 4.4 Notices of appeal finalised by type of finalisation, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 4.4 - Notices of appeal finalised by type of finalisation, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Figure 4.5 Proportion of notices of appeal finalised by type of finalisation, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 4.5 - Proportion of notices of appeal finalised by type of finalisation, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Appeal demographics

The historical trend in gender remains generally consistent, although there was a small decrease in the proportion of males lodging appeals (55 per cent) than females (42 per cent) (Figure 4.6). Figure 4.7 shows a continued trend towards self-representation. In 2015–16, the proportion of unrepresented appellants increased to 44 per cent from 39 per cent in 2014–15.

Figure 4.6 Proportion of appellants by gender, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 4.6 - Proportion of appellants by gender, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Figure 4.7 Proportion of appellants' representation status, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 4.7 - Proportion of appellants' representation status, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Age of finalised appeals

Of the appeals finalised in 2015–16, 77 per cent were finalised within 12 months, up two per cent on the prior year. Figure 4.8 shows the time taken to finalise appeals over the past five years.

Figure 4.8 Months to finalise appeals, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Figure 4.8 - Months to finalise appeals, 2011-12 to 2015-16
 

Appeals to the High Court of Australia

Section 95 of the Family Law Act 1975 provides that an appeal does not lie to the High Court from a decree of a court exercising jurisdiction under the Family Law Act, whether original or appellate, except by special leave of the High Court.

During 2015–16:

  • 25 applications for special leave to appeal were filed in the High Court from judgments of the Family Court
  • 23 applications for special leave were determined or disposed of by the High Court: 21 were refused, one deemed abandoned and one granted, and
  • the one appeal heard by the High Court was dismissed.

In Focus: Why am I seeing a Family Consultant?

Image of the Why am I seeing a Family Consultant video

Information for kids aged 5–8 and 9–12

When the courts' new websites were launched in May 2015, the children's pages were also rewritten and specific landing pages for children were developed.

There were six key principles in the redesign of the kids' pages:

  1. Comprehensive and robust information that answers possible questions.
  2. Information must be presented in accessible and age-appropriate way.
  3. The pages must be visually appealing (use of appropriate colour schemes, graphics, pictures, videos).
  4. There should be appropriate consideration for links and other services (e.g. Kids Helpline).
  5. The pages should include ample mechanism for children to have questions answered by staff within the Court, such as NEC phone numbers and Live Chat.
  6. There should be greater reliance on multimedia rather than simply asking children to read static information from the screen.

In meeting these principles, the courts have developed two new videos for children who are scheduled to meet with a family consultant at the Court.

  • Why am I seeing a family consultant – for children aged 5-8
  • Why am I seeing a family consultant – for children aged 9-12

Image of the Why am I seeing a Family Consultant video promotional poster
 

Coming to a court building and meeting with a family consultant can be a daunting experience for some children. The videos explain the process and help children understand what to expect.

The videos cover common questions such as:

  • What is a family consultant?
  • Why do I have to see a family consultant?
  • What happens when I see a family consultant?
  • Who gets to know what I say?
  • How do judges decide what is best for kids?

With a simple, age-appropriate format, the videos are a great addition to the children's pages on the court websites.

The videos are available:

On the Court's website

www.familycourt.gov.au > For public > Kids and young people > 5-8 year olds
www.familycourt.gov.au > For public > Kids and young people > 9-12 year olds

On the Court's YouTube channel

https://www.youtube.com/user/familycourtAU