Corporate Governance

This section reports on aspects of the Family Court of Australia's corporate governance arrangements.

The Chief Justice, assisted by the Chief Executive Officer, is responsible for managing the administrative affairs of the Court.

Under the Constitution, judicial power is vested in judges who administer that power in courts. The Family Law Act defines the Court as being a Chief Justice, a Deputy Chief Justice and the judges appointed to that court. By delegation from the Chief Justice, case management judges assist in administering judicial functions in particular areas, such as case management.

The Family Court is autonomously governed; that is, the judiciary has the responsibility for the administration of the Court. To enable the effective and efficient administration of justice, the judiciary needs support to deal with its workload. Non-judicial court employees, public servants accountable to the executive government through the Chief Executive Officer, provide that support.

The Chief Executive Officer's powers are broad, although subject to directions from the Chief Justice. The Chief Executive Officer holds the responsibilities and powers of an entity head under Commonwealth financial management and public service legislation.

The judges' committee structure facilitates collegiate involvement of the judges of the Court.

Figure 6.1 shows the organisational structure of the Court.

Figure 6.1 Organisational structure of the Family Court of Australia, 30 June 2016

Figure 6.1 Organisational structure of the Family Court of Australia, 30 June 2016
 

Judicial Officers of the Family Court of the Family Court of Australia

At 30 June 2016, there were 35 judges of the Court, including the Chief Justice and the Deputy Chief Justice.

Image of The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO

Chief Justice

The Chief Justice is responsible for ensuring the effective, orderly and expeditious discharge of the business of the Court (s 21B Family Law Act) and for managing its administrative affairs (s 38A). The Chief Justice is assisted in judicial responsibilities by the Deputy Chief Justice (s 21B) and in administrative responsibilities by the Chief Executive Officer (s 38B). The Chief Justice's chambers are located in the Melbourne registry.

Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO was appointed Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia on 5 July 2004. She had previously been the inaugural Chief Federal Magistrate overseeing the establishment of the then Federal Magistrates Court, a position she held for four years.

Image of The Honourable Deputy Chief Justice John Faulks

Deputy Chief Justice

The Deputy Chief Justice assists the Chief Justice in the judicial administration of the Family Court. Particular responsibilities include case management, complaints about judges, the collection and strategic assessment of statistics, pastoral care and oversight of the Court's committees.

In the absence of the Chief Justice, the Deputy Chief Justice performs and exercises the powers of the Chief Justice (s 24). The Deputy Chief Justice's chambers are located in the Canberra registry.

Deputy Chief Justice John Faulks was appointed as a Family Court judge on 12 October 1994. He was appointed as Deputy Chief Justice on 25 June 2004.

Judges assigned to the Appeal Division

  Appointed to the Appeal Division
The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO 5 July 2004
The Honourable Deputy Chief Justice John Faulks 25 June 2004
The Honourable Justice Mary Madeleine Finn 10 August 1993
The Honourable Justice Michelle May 6 February 2003
The Honourable Justice Stephen Ernest Thackray
(Chief Judge Family Court of Western Australia)
16 November 2006
The Honourable Justice Steven Andrew Strickland 14 December 2009
The Honourable Justice Ann Margaret Ainslie-Wallace 9 July 2010
The Honourable Justice Judith Maureen Ryan 27 September 2012
The Honourable Justice Peter John Murphy 27 September 2012
The Honourable Justice Murray Robert Aldridge 12 March 2015
The Honourable Justice Michael Patrick Kent 10 December 2015

Judges

Adelaide

The Honourable Justice Steven Andrew Strickland 22 November 1999
The Honourable Justice Christine Elizabeth Dawe 3 March 1997
The Honourable Justice David Michael Berman 18 July 2013

Brisbane

The Honourable Justice Michelle May 5 September 1995
The Honourable Justice Peter John Murphy 11 October 2007
The Honourable Justice Colin James Forrest 1 February 2011
The Honourable Justice Michael Patrick Kent 12 July 2011
The Honourable Justice Jenny Deyell Hogan 14 January 2013
The Honourable Justice Catherine Carew 7 March 2016

Canberra

The Honourable Justice Mary Madeleine Finn 2 July 1990
The Honourable Deputy Chief Justice John Faulks 25 June 2004
The Honourable Justice Shane Leslie Gill 16 May 2016

Hobart

The Honourable Justice Robert James Charles Benjamin AM 19 August 2005

Melbourne

The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO 5 July 2004
The Honourable Justice Victoria Jane Bennett 30 November 2005
The Honourable Justice Paul Joseph Cronin 20 December 2006
The Honourable Justice Kirsty Marion Macmillan 14 December 2011
The Honourable Justice Jennifer Ann Coate 31 January 2013
The Honourable Justice Sharon Louise Johns 29 July 2013
The Honourable Justice Christine Thornton 12 August 2013

Newcastle

The Honourable Justice Stewart Craig Austin 13 July 2009
The Honourable Justice Margaret Ann Cleary 8 July 2010

Parramatta

The Honourable Justice Garry Frederick Foster 8 August 2013
The Honourable Justice Hilary Rae Hannam 13 August 2013

Sydney

The Honourable Justice Ann Margaret Ainslie-Wallace 9 July 2010
The Honourable Justice Judith Maureen Ryan 31 July 2006
The Honourable Justice Murray Robert Aldridge 13 December 2012
The Honourable Justice Janine Patricia Hazelwood Stevenson 18 May 2001
The Honourable Justice Mark Frederick Le Poer Trench 10 October 2001
The Honourable Justice Garry Allan Watts 14 April 2005
The Honourable Justice William Philip Johnston 12 July 2010
The Honourable Justice Ian James Loughnan 12 July 2010
The Honourable Justice Judith Anne Rees 15 December 2011
The Honourable Justice Robert Bruce McClelland 16 June 2015

Townsville

The Honourable Justice Peter William Tree 14 January 2013

Family Court of Western Australia

(The following judges of the Family Court of Western Australia also hold Commissions in the Family Court of Australia)

  Date of Family Court commission
Chief Judge The Honourable Justice Stephen Ernest Thackray 1 December 2004
The Honourable Justice Simon Moncrieff 31 August 2009
The Honourable Justice John Myer Walters 6 December 2012
The Honourable Justice Susan Janet Duncanson 6 December 2012
The Honourable Justice Richard O'Brien 12 April 2016

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

The Honourable Justice Janine Stevenson
The Honourable Justice Victoria Bennett
The Honourable Justice Colin Forrest
The Honourable Justice David Berman
The Honourable Justice Mary Madeleine Finn
The Honourable Justice Christine Elizabeth Dawe
The Honourable Justice Robert James Charles Benjamin AM

Appointments, Retirements and Resignations

Judicial officer appointments

Image of The Honourable Justice Catherine Carew
The Honourable Justice Catherine Carew
Image of The Honourable Justice Shane Gill
The Honourable Justice Shane Gill
Image of The Honourable Justice Richard O'Brien
The Honourable Justice Richard O'Brien

Justice Catherine Carew: The Honourable Justice Catherine Carew was appointed to the Court's Brisbane registry on 7 March 2016.

Justice Shane Gill: The Honourable Justice Shane Gill was appointed to the Court's Canberra registry on 16 May 2016.

Justice Richard O'Brien: The Honourable Justice Richard O'Brien was appointed to the Family Court of Western Australia on 8 March 2016.

Appointment to the Appeal Division

Justice Michael Kent was assigned to the Appeal Division of the Family Court with effect from 10 December 2015.

There were no retirements or resignations.

Senior Executives

Chief Executive Officer

Image of Richard Foster PSM FAIM Richard Foster PSM FAIM

The Chief Executive Officer is appointed to assist the Chief Justice to administer the Court. The Chief Executive Officer's powers are broad (s 38D Family Law Act 1975), although subject to directions from the Chief Justice (s 38D(3)). The Chief Executive Officer holds the responsibilities and powers of an entity head under Commonwealth financial management and public service legislation, but is appointed under similar terms as judicial officers. The Chief Executive Officer is supported by the staff of the National Support Office. Richard Foster was appointed Chief Executive Officer in May 2000 and retires on 30 June 2016.

Principal Registrar

Image of Angela FilippelloAngela Filippello

The Principal Registrar provides high level legal and procedural advice to support the judicial functioning of the Family Court. As a senior lawyer, she discharges the statutory duties assigned to that position by the Family Law Act 1975, works closely with the Chief Justice and judges in administering the Act and related legislation, and identifies areas in need of reform. The Principal Registrar presides in court and holds the delegated power to make orders in interim parenting cases, maintenance cases and some enforcement of financial obligations. The Principal Registrar also oversees the performance of, and provides direction to, the Court's registrars. Angela Filippello was appointed Principal Registrar in July 1999 and retires on 30 June 2016.

Principal, Child Dispute Services

Image of Jane ReynoldsJane Reynolds (acting)

The Principal, Child Dispute Services advises the Chief Justice and the Chief Executive Officer on the provision of quality child dispute services to the Court. The Principal ensures that the services delivered by the family consultants are effective and consistent with the strategic and business objectives of the Court. The Principal also has responsibility for the development of strategic external relationships that promote and position the child dispute services of the Court within the family law framework. Jane Reynolds was appointed acting Principal, Child Dispute Services in February 2015.

Chief Information Officer

Image of Paul StacePaul Stace (acting)

The Chief Information Officer provides strategic vision, leadership and management of the Court's applications, information management and infrastructure services. Paul Stace was appointed acting Chief Information Officer in February 2015.

Executive Director, Corporate

Image of Adrian BrocklehurstAdrian Brocklehurst

The Executive Director, Corporate provides strategic leadership and management of the Court's human resources, property and contracts, finance, management accounting and procurement and risk management. Adrian Brocklehurst was appointed Executive Director, Corporate in September 2014. Adrian holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting) degree from the University of Newcastle and is a Fellow of CPA Australia.

Executive Director, Client Services

Vacant

The Executive Director, Client Services is responsible for the delivery of client services in all family law registries. The Executive Director ensures that high quality registry services and support are provided to all judicial officers, litigants and legal practitioners, consistent with the strategic and business objectives of the Court.

Judicial Committees Reporting

Chief Justice Bryant maintains a collegiate style of governance, and the judicial officers of the Court meet annually, or more often if required, in plenary. In addition, judges participate in a number of committees that develop policies across a range of matters. As part of the implementation of the International Framework for Court Excellence, and following consultations with the judges of the Court, the Chief Justice introduced five new standing committees in 2014. These committees facilitate a more inclusive, analytical and transparent discussion of important policy issues faced by the Court and result ultimately in a more integrated and accountable decision-making process.

Image of Flowchart of judicial committees reporting structure
 

Court Policy Committee

At the strategic level, this committee is the peak policy making body within the Court. The committee's role is to support the Chief Justice in the administration of the Court and to provide strategic advice and policy direction, particularly in relation to legislative, procedural and administrative changes likely to affect the Family Court and its users.

The committee comprises:

  • The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO (Chair)
  • The Honourable Deputy Chief Justice John Faulks
  • The Honourable Justice Michelle May
  • The Honourable Justice Ann Ainslie-Wallace
  • The Honourable Justice Judith Ryan
  • The Honourable Justice Stewart Austin
  • The Honourable Justice Colin Forrest
  • The Honourable Justice David Berman
  • Chief Executive Officer Richard Foster PSM (exofficio), and
  • Leisha Lister (secretariat).

Judicial Committee Highlights

This section summarises the work of some of the judicial committees during 2015–16.

Finance

The Finance Committee's principal focus is directed to the following:

  • consider and define the full cost and budgetary requirements of the Family Court
  • consider spending and budgetary priorities that affect core judicial work
  • discuss budgetary priorities and the allocation of financial resources
  • consider the budgetary requirements of the Court following the changes to the administration of the Family Court pursuant to the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013, and
  • ensure transparency in respect of expenditure and the setting of budgetary priorities that affect core judicial work.

During 2015–16 members of the Finance Committee were Justice Berman (Chair), Justice Watts and Justice Austin. The committee met in person, by audio visual conferencing and by telephone. The committee was significantly assisted in its deliberations by the attendance from time to time of Chief Justice Bryant and Executive Director, Corporate, Adrian Brocklehurst.

Rules

The Rules Committee is established in contemplation of section 123 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), which provides that a majority of judges may make rules of court in relation to practices and procedures to be followed in the Family Court.

The Rules Committee meets on a regular basis to consider proposed changes to the Family Law Rules 2004 (Cth) with a view to improving the efficiency, accessibility and cost effectiveness of the Family Court for its clients. The committee also undertakes detailed consideration of discrete issues as required. During 2015–16, the committee met in person in August 2015 and February 2016, and otherwise by video-conference.

Justice Ryan continued to chair the Rules Committee until February 2016 and, upon her resignation as Chair, Justice Rees was appointed to the position. Committee members during the year were Justice Loughnan, Justice Berman, Justice Hogan (until February 2016), Justice Ryan (from February 2016) Magistrate Moroni, Senior Registrar FitzGibbon, Registrar Paxton and Neil Wareham (legal counsel to the Family Court).

In 2015–16, the committee worked on a number of important projects, including amendments to the Family Law Rules 2004 (Cth). These amendments were secured by the Family Law (Arbitration and Other Measures) Rules 2015 which, other than in relation to Arbitration, commenced on 1 January 2016. The Arbitration Rules came into effect on 1 April 2016. The amending rules increased the scale of costs by three per cent in conformity with the increase approved nationally by all superior courts and:

  • facilitated effective and timely arbitration by making provision for subpoena and in relation to disclosure
  • streamlined the process in relation to the administrative release of documents produced under subpoena
  • introduced a chapter in relation to applications concerning children born by a surrogacy arrangement
  • required any variation to a family violence order be filed
  • identified when proceedings may be heard in chambers and to provide for judgments to be pronounced in open court and for written reasons for judgment to be published in open court
  • introduced the concept of entry of orders and to clarify the circumstances in which a judgment or order may be varied or set aside, and
  • various other matters of a technical nature.

The committee consulted with the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia and with other constituent bodies about the proposed rule amendments.

Court performance

The Court Performance Committee remains chaired by Justice Austin and its membership comprises all registry Case Management and Magellan judges.

This year, the work of the committee has been concentrated on refinement of the Court's trial case management and extension of the National Calendar project.

Case management

The principles devised in 2015 to guide the operation of the Court's 'trial docket' system of case management have been implemented in all registries, enhancing consistency across the Court in the way it manages its case-flow.

The system envisages that only those cases which cannot be consensually resolved by intervention of registrars are allocated to judicial dockets for procedural management by judges to final trial.

Magellan

The Magellan protocol is a discrete case management pathway designed to ensure that cases involving allegations of sexual abuse or serious physical abuse of children are heard within six months of such allegations being raised in the litigation before the Court.

Some refinements were made to the way in which cases qualify for classification within the protocol, and these changes were explained in the 2014–15 Annual Report. Those refinements have resulted in a more manageable number of cases. Presently, the number of pending Magellan cases fluctuates at around 180.

Regrettably, a fair proportion of the Magellan cases cannot be heard within the model timeframe. The lack of adequate resources for the Court is one reason for the delay, but there are others beyond the Court's control. For example, the parties often encounter difficulty obtaining expert evidence reports in a timely way (due to the paucity of forensic experts and the expense of their reports) and some litigants want to preserve their privilege against self-incrimination when they are involved in parallel criminal prosecutions.

Nonetheless, Magellan cases are still accorded priority and the aims of the protocol are generally being met.

National calendar

The Court's national services should ideally be delivered as uniformly as circumstances allow. With that goal in mind, the Court operates a National Calendar under which trial judges are moved between registries to try and balance the case-flows in different registries. Even though resources do not permit complete equivalence in all registries, the National Calendar significantly reduces disparity.

During 2015–16, trial judges spent a total of 62 weeks sitting away in other registries with greater need for judicial time.

Professional development and judicial welfare

The aim of the Professional Development and Judicial Welfare Committee is to develop, implement and oversee judicial education in the Court by formulating a comprehensive plan for ongoing and extensive judicial education and to provide advice to the Chief Justice on judicial education and welfare issues.

The committee implemented a two-day education program for judges. It is recognised that judges will have access to other programs developed by providers outside the Court such as those conducted by the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration and the National Judicial College of Australia.

The committee also assists the Chief Justice in the dissemination of information as her Honour considers should be brought to the attention of the judges. Topics and issues covered in 2015–16 include:

  • S 128 of the Evidence Act and certificates
  • oppression suits
  • resilience, wellbeing and sustainable performance
  • the appointment of liquidators and receivers
  • judicial recusal
  • traps for the uninitiated and how judges can assist experts making reports in how they frame the requests
  • the secret life of documents
  • vicarious trauma and judging, and
  • laws of armed conflict.

The committee also develops education programs and puts in place mechanisms to support judges to maintain resilience and to provide orientation for new appointments. Key activities for 2015–16 include:

  • including general resilience information in judicial education programs (e.g. maintaining psychological and physical health of the judiciary)
  • providing mentoring for judges
  • introducing a new national health assessment scheme for judges that provides annual medical health checks as a further commitment to health and wellbeing
  • ensuring that judges are aware of the support services available to them to assist in dealing with matters of concern and that the services can be accessed directly by the judges so as to maintain both anonymity and confidentiality, and
  • providing orientation sessions aimed at addressing aspects of the judicial role and practical matters peculiar to the Family Court.

Court services

The Court Services portfolio is responsible for overseeing and reporting to the Court Policy Committee on governance and policy considerations pertaining to:

  • the Court's provision of services to the public, including the provision of services through the built environment in the form of court buildings and courtrooms and through electronic media, but also in terms of the equitable delivery of access to justice, mindful of barriers created by the cost of litigation, race, religious, cultural and language diversity, and physical and mental health disabilities
  • the Court's provision of services to its judges and staff, including by way of the development and/or provision of appropriate information and other technology, as well as adequate training and ongoing support in its use, and
  • the Court's maintenance and storage of its records.

In doing so, it also oversees the work of the following sub-committees:

  • Children's Committee
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Outreach Committee, and
  • Unrepresented Litigants Working Group.

Court Services also oversees matters that were previously dealt with by the Cultural Diversity sub-committee and the Property Management sub-committee. Justice Murphy of the Appeal Division was nominated by the Chief Justice during 2015–16 to oversee judicial information technology requirements.

Work of the sub-committees

Children's

The Children's Committee was established in 2012 to consider what (if any) further work needs to be undertaken with respect to the involvement of children in parenting cases and how the family law courts might ascertain whether children feel their voices have been heard in proceedings that involve them.

In 2015, the committee commenced planning of the second National Independent Children's Lawyers' Conference, to be held in Melbourne in October 2016. The conference program is now in place and it will build on the successful foundation provided by the first conference convened by the committee in Sydney in 2014. The conference is designed to facilitate the exchange of best practice ideas and information between independent children's lawyers from all over Australia.

Due to issues around the sourcing of funding and the emergence of another significant research project to be undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the research project with Yourtown – Kids' Help Line and Sydney University academics, that tapped into the thousands of children and young people who contact Kids' Help Line each week in order to anonymously ascertain their views about their experiences of family breakdown, has been scaled down. A newly designed project that aims to identify specific concerns children talk about during and after being involved in family law matters, and to determine who they want to talk to and how, why and what they hope to gain support about, is being supported by the committee.

The committee was involved in the development of age-appropriate, child-focused content for the children's section on the courts' websites and in producing fact sheets for distribution to children who come into contact with the courts. The landing pages on the courts' upgraded websites are now available to children who visit these sites. These pages are designed to help children understand what is involved in their parents' family law proceedings and what to expect if they are required to see a family consultant.

The committee, through one of its members, has also been directly involved in a Pathways South Australia pilot of a Children's Advisory Board based on the UK model of such a board.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander outreach

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Committee seeks to continue the long history of the Court in promoting and improving access to justice for Indigenous families, by ensuring the Court's administration and judiciary work hand-in-hand to enable and facilitate the participation of Indigenous Australians in the Court's processes.

Committee Chair, Justice Benjamin, met with a large number of leaders of NSW Indigenous communities in October 2015 to discuss issues arising from the Attorney-General's brief to the Family Law Council to report on the intersection of family law and child protection law. Justice Benjamin also attended a 'Back to Country' weekend with Victorian judges held in the Gippsland region of Victoria in November 2015.

The committee continues to work on the following activities:

  • converting the Court's Indigenous Action Plan 2014–16 into a Reconciliation Action Plan
  • developing a court protocol for Acknowledgment of Country at court events
  • examining the potential of a resource of information relevant to ATSI outreach issues to be placed on the courts' intranets
  • establishing and building links with local Indigenous leaders around each of the Court's registries, and
  • working cooperatively with the Family Court of Western Australia, Federal Circuit Court, state courts and tribunals, the National Judicial College and relevant state judicial education authorities such as the Judicial Commission of NSW.

Unrepresented litigants

The Unrepresented Litigants Working Group is chaired by Justice Le Poer Trench and consists of representatives from the Federal Circuit Court, the courts' administration, family consultants, the NSW Bar Association, the NSW Law Society, community legal centres and others.

The group has worked on simplifying documents and processes around contravention applications and has produced some draft simplified forms for consideration by the judges.

Cultural diversity

Justice Berman continues to represent the Court on the national Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity, established by the national Council of Chief Justices. Over the last year, that council has had a full agenda working on:

  • an interpreting and translating project
  • research on coverings (clothing) in court settings
  • a draft framework for access to justice for Indigenous and migrant woman
  • the preparation of a Reconciliation Action Plan toolkit, and
  • the preparation of an online training tool for judicial staff.

Property management

Relevant developments include the major refurbishment of the Child Dispute Services area in the Sydney registry, reconfiguring the entire floor, including a new reception area and waiting room, a state of the art child care facility which includes a teenage retreat, painting area, separated secure bathroom area for the children to use, two new secure rooms with their own unisex bathroom facility, new staff bathrooms and two new observation rooms. The project was undertaken by Department of Finance and handed over to the courts' property section in May 2016, with the area returning to business as usual soon thereafter.

The Adelaide registry was issued funding from the Department of Finance to redesign the child care room and interview rooms located in the Child Dispute Services area. A final design was approved in conjunction with Child Dispute Services staff. Tender documents went out in June 2016, with an expected construction commencement date of August 2016.

At the Newcastle registry, a major project to replace the entire building's air conditioning has been undertaken. Other improvements contracted around a major lease incentive include repainting four levels, carpet replacement on the ground floor, additional shelving throughout current storerooms, and some offices to help cope with decreased storage capacity throughout the building.

A new public lift has also been installed in the Dandenong registry.

Judicial information technology requirements

In 2015, the Court commissioned Fujitsu to undertake a comprehensive review of the Court's technology requirements. That report, completed and submitted to the Chief Justice and the Chief Executive Officer early this year, examined in detail all aspects of the Court's functions, from the front counter to judges' chambers and to the publication and dissemination of judgments.

The report included a comprehensive set of specifications across the totality of the Court's requirements and made recommendations as to items that are essential and those which are less so. Consistent with Fujitsu's brief, the report is written in technical language and on the Chief Justice's appointment, Justice Murphy liaised with the head of the Fujitsu team for a document to be produced that could be more readily understood by the judges. The changes in management of the courts' corporate services has resulted in that project being put on hold for the moment, but plans for a pilot scheme for the Appeal Division to introduce complete electronic systems is still in consideration.

Family violence

The Family Violence Committee is a joint committee of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. The committee's principal responsibility is to provide advice to the Chief Justice, the Chief Judge and the Chief Executive Officer of both courts on the issue of family violence. In discharging this responsibility, the committee reviews and updates the courts' family violence strategy and Family Violence Best Practice Principles, as well as undertaking discrete projects.

During 2015–16, members of the Family Violence Committee were Justice Ryan (Chair), Justice Stevenson, Justice Hannam, Judge Brown, Judge Hughes, Judge Altobelli, Angela Filippello (Principal Registrar, Family Court of Australia), Leisha Lister (Executive Officer), and Di Lojszczyk (family consultant).

The committee's major project was the continued implementation of the Family Violence Plan 2014–16 which forms part of the commitment both courts have made to addressing family violence, including the measures contained in the joint Family Violence Best Practice Principles.

The Family Violence Committee also worked on issues raised by:

  • the report from the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence
  • Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee Inquiry into Domestic Violence, and
  • internal review processes on the death of a child or party.

Collaborative Committees

Joint Costs Advisory Committee

The Joint Costs Advisory Committee comprises representatives of the four federal courts: the High Court of Australia, the Family Court of Australia, the Federal Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. During the reporting period the committee comprised:

  • Judge of the Family Court of Australia (Justice Benjamin) (Chair)
  • Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar of the High Court of Australia (Andrew Phelan)
  • Deputy Registrar of the Federal Court of Australia (John Mathieson)
  • Principal Registrar of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (Adele Byrne), and
  • Principal Registrar of the Family Court of Australia, (Angela Filippello) (who participates as an observer).

The committee reviews and recommends variations to the quantum of costs contained in the rules made by federal courts and advises on other matters relating to those costs as may be referred to it by a federal court.

Senior Management Committees

The senior executive of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court continued to meet annually to establish the strategic direction and priorities for the effective administration of both courts. Senior executives of both courts participate in a number of committees that provide high level operational and policy advice to the Chief Executive Officer, Richard Foster.

Chief Executive Officer's Management Advisory Group

The Chief Executive Officer's Management Advisory Group (CMAG) provides operational and policy advice on key areas that affect the administration of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court.

Chaired by the Chief Executive Officer, CMAG meets bi-monthly and comprises:

  • Executive Director, Operations, Federal Circuit Court (Steve Agnew)
  • Executive Director, Corporate (Adrian Brocklehurst)
  • Executive Officer, Family Court (Leisha Lister)
  • Principal Registrar, Family Court (Angela Filippello)
  • Principal Registrar, Federal Circuit Court (Adele Byrne)
  • Principal, Child Dispute Services (Jane Reynolds [acting])
  • Director of Administration, Federal Circuit Court (Stewart Fenwick)
  • Director, Human Resources (Claire Golding)
  • Chief Information Officer (Paul Stace [acting]), and
  • Regional Registry Managers.

Other committees

A number of administrative committees were also active during 2015–16 and provided high level operational and policy advice. Meeting on a regular or ad hoc basis, they included:

  • Audit and Risk
  • National Consultative, and
  • Work Health and Safety.

Senior management committee highlights

This section highlights the work of senior management committees during 2015–16. Appendix eight has details of membership and the terms of reference for the various committees.

Chief Executive Officer's Management Advisory Group

In 2015–16, CMAG continued to provide advice to the Chief Executive Officer on new policy and other initiatives. These included:

  • continued work with the Attorney-General's Department on the review of the federal courts
  • implementation of the International Framework for Court Excellence, Family Violence Screening Tool Pilot, Multicultural Plan and cultural competency training
  • financial and human resource planning
  • staff compliance training and development
  • information technology initiatives, and
  • human resource management policies and practices.

Audit and Risk Committee

The Audit and Risk Committee is established in accordance with section 45 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act). The Chief Executive Officer must establish and maintain an audit committee for the entity, with the functions and responsibilities required by PGPA Rule Section 17.

The functions must include reviewing the appropriateness of the courts' financial reporting, performance reporting, system of risk oversight and management and system of internal control.

The committee comprises an external chair and two senior managers from the Court's administration.

During 2015–16, the committee considered a range of issues, including the internal audit plan, strategic risk and fraud risk treatments and business continuity. It also provided oversight of the Australian National Audit Office and internal audit report recommendations.

National Consultative Committee

The National Consultative Committee is a key forum through which the Court consults with staff about broader issues that have a national perspective. Elected staff delegates actively present the views of staff regarding issues that impact nationally on staff and the management and future direction of the Court.

The committee met twice in 2015–16. Its areas of focus continued to be:

  • the objectives of the Court and how these might be achieved
  • financial and human resource planning
  • information technology initiatives
  • security
  • management and review processes, including proposed changes
  • work health and safety matters
  • equal employment opportunity issues
  • accommodation and amenities, and
  • human resource management policies and practices.

National Work Health and Safety Committee

The National Work Health and Safety Committee met once during the year to discuss and resolve national work health safety issues in addition to:

  • developing and reviewing health and safety management arrangements, policies and practices
  • consulting with staff on health and safety issues
  • developing and refining processes to regularly audit health and safety in the Court's registries, including eliminating identifiable hazards and mitigating known risks
  • reviewing any workplace incidents or accidents to develop prevention strategies
  • making recommendations on the work health and safety impact of changes in the workplace, and
  • discussing and resolving work health and safety issues in the Court.

Corporate and operational planning and associated performance reporting and review

At 30 June 2016, there were 753 ongoing and non-ongoing entity employees (excluding judicial officers, the Chief Executive Officer and casual employees) in all states and territories except Western Australia.

Guidance for staff is contained in the following documents, available to all staff on the Court's intranet and website:

Image of the cover of the Courts Exchange newsletter
  • administration policies and procedural documents including guidelines, procedures and manuals from the finance, human resources and information, communication and technology areas
  • APS Values and Code of Conduct
  • Corporate Plan and business area plans
  • HR information bulletins
  • Service Charter and Service Commitments
  • Registry Services Delivery Strategy
  • Statement of Strategic Intent, and
  • case management policies and manuals related to the management of family law cases from the Chief Justice, the Principal Registrar and the Principal, Child Dispute Services.

The Court's geographically dispersed judiciary and staff are informed of significant changes and events through the following:

  • Chief Justice eMessages—emails from the Chief Justice to the judiciary and all staff
  • Chief Executive Officer eMessages—emails from the Chief Executive Officer to all staff
  • Chief Executive Instructions—the official mechanism by which the Chief Executive Officer communicates and directs the Court's compliance with the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth)
  • Client service advices—from the Executive Director, Client Services to all client service staff working in the registries
  • Courts Exchange—the courts' internal staff newsletter, which is issued four times per year and includes columns from the Chief Justice, Chief Judge and Chief Executive Officer. This is the primary vehicle for sharing information and celebrating the achievements and successes of court staff, and
  • intranet messages—latest news.

Internal Audit

The Court has, as part of its corporate governance arrangements, appropriate mechanisms to manage general business risk as well as fraud risk.

In 2015–16, the Court's internal audit services were provided by RSM Bird Cameron and monitored by the Audit and Risk Committee.

The 2015–16 Internal Audit Plan was developed taking into account the risk drivers in the Strategic Risk Management Plan and after consultation with the Audit and Risk Committee and the senior management team.

Internal audits conducted during the year included:

  • Fraud Control Plan
  • Strategic Risk Management Plan
  • Rehabilitation Management System and Framework, and
  • Contract Management.

The Court's Audit and Risk Committee monitored the implementation of individual audit report recommendations generated from those audits, through quarterly status reports.

Risk Management

The Court promotes a culture that supports the identification, analysis, assessment, treatment, monitoring and review of all strategic, operational, compliance and financial risks. This is supported by the Court's Risk Control and Compliance Framework.

The Risk Control and Compliance Framework provide policies, procedures and tools to promote effective risk management. The framework is available to all court staff on the intranet for the principal purpose of achieving better services and outcomes for clients, judicial services and staff.

The Court continued to participate in the annual Comcover benchmarking survey, which measures risk and assesses the extent of cultural change within agencies. The Court's overall result continued to improve, reflecting the Court's efforts in the area of risk management.

The Court continues to further revise its Business Continuity Plans with regular reviews, testing and updating of the plan being undertaken.

The Procurement and Risk Management section continues to provide, as a standing agenda item, regular updates on risk related activities to the Audit and Risk Committee.

Business continuity desktop scenarios were conducted at Hobart (including Launceston), Townsville (including Rockhampton) and Dandenong (including Melbourne) registries in October 2015.

Financial Risk

The Court manages financial risk in accordance with the Risk Control and Compliance Framework. The relevant mechanisms are:

  • risk assessments for annual business plans
  • risk assessments for identified projects
  • Accountable Authority Instructions available to all staff on the intranet, and
  • monthly financial reports to CMAG and oversight by the Audit and Risk Committee.

Fraud Prevention and Control

The Court's Fraud Control Plan 2016–17 complies with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines 2011.

The Court has in place fraud investigation, reporting and data collection procedures that met the needs of the Court and comply with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines 2011.

During 2015–16, the Audit and Risk Committee continued to receive reports on the implementation status of fraud risk treatments.

The Court continued to monitor the Fraud Control Plan 2015–16, which is available to all court staff via the intranet. The plan was developed in consultation with key stakeholders across all areas of court activities.

No incidents of fraud were noted within the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court during 2015–16.

Fraud control certification

In accordance with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Framework 2014, issued by the Minister for Justice, pursuant to Section 10 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Rule 2014, I hereby certify that I am satisfied that:

  • the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court has prepared fraud assessments and has in place a fraud control plan that complies with the Guidelines
  • appropriate fraud prevention, detection, investigation and reporting procedures and processes are in place, and
  • annual fraud data has been collected and reported that complies with the Guidelines.

[Signed in the hard copy]
 

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

Information Publication Scheme

Entities subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) are required to publish information to the public as part of the Information Publication Scheme (IPS). This requirement is in Part II of the FOI Act and has replaced the former requirement to publish a section 8 statement in an annual report. An entity plan showing what information is published in accordance with the IPS requirements is accessible from entity websites.

Information about FOI and the IPS entity plan for the Family Court can be found via a link on the homepage of the Family Court's website at www.familycourt.gov.au

The Court received three Freedom of Information requests during 2015–16. At 30 June 2016, there were no matters outstanding before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Ethical Standards

The Australian Public Service Values and Code of Conduct contained in the Public Service Act 1999 apply to all employees of the Court.

In 2015–16, the Court maintained ongoing information and education activities to ensure that all staff are aware of their rights, responsibilities and obligations in relation to privacy, ethics and other factors such as environmental responsibility, data management and data quality.

The Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court maintain web-based Service Charter and Service Commitments publications. These outline the services clients may expect of the courts. The Court is committed to supporting employees to adhere to the APS Values and to comply with the Code of Conduct. Employees receive information about the Values and the Code through all-staff emails, the intranet and induction and other training programs. Employees also receive information and guidance about conduct and behaviour expectations from their managers.

Policy and practices on the establishment and maintenance of appropriate ethical standards – Ethics Contact Officers

Established in May 2009, the Australian Public Service Commission's Ethics Contact Officer Network (ECONET) plays a key role in supporting the ongoing work of the Ethics Advisory Service. The service has responsibility for promoting the Government's ethical agenda, which is focused on enhancing ethics and accountability in the Commonwealth public sector. The Director, Human Resources and the Workforce and Policy Manager are the Court's representatives at the ECONET forum.

Management and Accountability

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 came into effect on 15 January 2014. The Act promotes integrity and accountability in the Australian public sector by encouraging the disclosure of information about suspected wrongdoing, protecting people who make disclosures and requiring agencies to take action. A Public Interest Disclosure is, essentially, a disclosure made by a current or former public official of suspected wrongdoing in the Commonwealth public sector.

The courts are committed to complying with all applicable laws and with best practice. Corrupt practices, breaches of the law and other conduct that is disclosable under the Act are contrary to our values. If they occur, reporting them is encouraged so that they may be addressed properly. With that in mind, the courts established formal procedures under the Act, the Public Interest Disclosure Rules and the Public Interest Disclosure Standards. These procedures are published on the courts' intranets and websites.

Authorised officers appointed by the Chief Executive Officer for the courts are the Executive Director, Client Services, Regional Registry Manager Sydney, and Director, Human Resources.

Service Charter and Service Commitments

Link to the Service Charter    Link to the Service Commitments 

The aim of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court is to give clients and other users of the courts the best services they possibly can. What the courts mean by this is set out in the joint Service Charter and Service Commitments publications.

The Court also has a Portfolio Budget Statement Key Performance Indicator specifically about complaints. This, along with the Service Charter, is a central part of the Court's service monitoring and response mechanism.

The Service Charter outlines the service level standards clients can expect from staff of the courts and how clients and other users of court services may make suggestions or complaints about services, policy, practice or procedures. An aspect of the Charter, in terms of community expectations of the courts, is that it makes clear what court staff cannot do. This is important because frequently clients or prospective clients have expectations that the courts cannot meet.

The context is that for many clients, the family courts are the only courts they will ever have anything to do with—so the processes, procedures and legal environment are completely unfamiliar and this unfamiliarity occurs at what may be one of the most stressful times of their lives because of the breakdown of family relationships. The courts appreciate this, however, must work impartially and professionally: thus the information about what people can expect but also what staff cannot do. For example, staff cannot give legal advice or tell people what words to use in their court papers or what to say in court; they cannot tell someone whether or not they should bring their case to court. Staff cannot recommend a certain lawyer to act on a client's behalf or interpret, change or enforce orders made by a judge or other judicial officer.

The Service Charter and Service Commitments publications (which summarise information about what clients of the courts can expect from client services staff, what the staff cannot do, clients rights and responsibilities and how clients can help the courts to help them) are available on www.familycourt.gov.au

Feedback and Service Improvements

Feedback helps to drive service improvement and the Court invites feedback, including suggestions and complaints about administrative things such as the standard of client service received in a registry, a privacy matter, a security matter, a court policy, or the way correspondence has been handled.

Full details about feedback and complaints is contained in Part three—Report on Court Performance—but in summary, in 2015–16, the Court received:

  • 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
  • 41 about judicial conduct, and
  • 30 compliments.

Compliance Reporting

There were no significant issues reported under paragraph 19(1)(e) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 that relates to non-compliance with the finance law in relation to the entity.

External and Internal Scrutiny

External scrutiny

Reports by the Auditor-General

The Auditor-General made no report specific to the Family Court during 2015–16.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

There were no relevant proceedings in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Commonwealth Ombudsman

The Commonwealth Ombudsman made no report specific to the Family Court during 2015–16.

Action in defamation

There were no actions in defamation during 2015–16.

Freedom of Information

The Court received three Freedom of Information requests during 2015–16.

Whole-of-government Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) initiatives

During 2015–16, the courts participated in a number of whole-of-government ICT initiatives:

  • In October 2015 the annual ICT benchmarking report for the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court was submitted to the Department of Finance. The report covered all ICT operating and capital expenditure for the 2014–15 financial year and included some quantitative measures about staffing and quantities of ICT equipment.
  • Whole-of-government supply contracts are mandatory across a broad number of areas. By 30 June 2016, the courts were using the:
    • Microsoft volume sourcing arrangement
    • desktop hardware panel
    • telecommunications commodities carriage and associated services panel
    • major office machines panel
    • data centre panel
    • internet based network connection services panel, and
    • Government internet gateway services.
  • ICT staff from the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court are members of the GovMail and GovDesk Inter-Agency Working Group. The Department of Finance is conducting this project to confirm demand for email (GovMail) and/or desktop productivity tools (GovDesk) to be delivered via the cloud, in anticipation of a subsequent approach to market to establish an initial product offering. The working group is a key advisory body for the project, considering issues and opportunities relating to GovMail and GovDesk services, and providing advice and perspectives on strategic aspects of the project.
  • As part of the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy, the courts are required to update online government information and services to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 standard for website accessibility. The courts' websites www.familycourt.gov.au and www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au are Double A compliant.

Senate estimates committee hearings

Senior Executive Service staff of the Court attend Senate estimates committee hearings to answer questions about the Court's activities. In 2015–16, 28 questions on notice were received and answered by the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. In addition, there were more than 50 departmental responses.

External Evaluations

Ernst & Young review of courts' funding

The Department undertook work with Ernst & Young in 2014–15 to develop costing scenarios to support options for consideration by government as part of the 2015–16 Budget process.

Following consideration of the Ernst & Young review, the Australian Government announced, as part of the 2015–16 Budget, that the corporate functions of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court would be merged with those of the Federal Court of Australia to form a single administrative body with a single appropriation under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 from 1 July 2016.

Internal Evaluations

There were no internal evaluations during 2015–16.

Management of Human Resources

Overview

The Human Resources section of the Corporate Services division supports all areas of the Court by managing a range of human resources, entitlements processing services, and advice to the Court's judiciary and staff.

In 2015–16 Human Resources focussed on:

  • preparation for the courts' Corporate Services Amalgamation Project
  • enterprise agreement negotiations
  • recruitment services: advertising support, recruitment tips and assistance, probation, letters of offer and contracts
  • payroll, entitlements and conditions of employment
  • payroll system, including support for Aurion/employee self-service reporting
  • workforce capability services including planning, Performance Management and Development Scheme, learning and development and workplace wellbeing
  • workplace relations support including enterprise agreement, National Consultative Committee, policy and legislation advice
  • implementing systems to support workplace health and safety legislation, and
  • promoting employee wellbeing and respectful behaviours.

Courts' Corporate Services Amalgamation Project

In May 2015, the Government announced that it would implement reforms under which the corporate functions of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court would be merged with that of the Federal Court of Australia to form a single administrative body with a single appropriation under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013, to take effect from 1 July 2016.

Senior Corporate Services staff participated in a steering committee and a coordinating project working group to advance the project. Following passage of the Courts Administration Legislation Amendment Act 2016 in March 2016, project work intensified significantly.

Enterprise Agreement

The Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia Enterprise Agreement 2011–2014 has a nominal expiry date of 30 June 2014, however it continued to operate during 2015–16, and will continue in existence until it is replaced or otherwise terminated.

The Enterprise Agreement covers all non-SES staff of the courts and delivered salary increases of three per cent for each of the three years 2011–12, 2012–13 and 2013–14. Salary increases under the Agreement are now exhausted. Accordingly, the terms and conditions of the enterprise agreement carry over (with no further pay rises, unless and until, there is a new negotiation under revised budgetary conditions).

The enterprise agreement directly supports the Court's strategic objectives and complements its performance planning, management arrangements and improvements at the team and individual level.

The Court is committed to supporting employees to adhere to the APS Values and comply with the Code of Conduct. During 2015–16, employees continued to receive information about the Values and the Code through all-staff emails, the intranet, and induction and other training programs. Employees also received information and guidance about conduct and behaviour expectations from their managers.

Workforce Planning, Retention and Turnover

Workforce planning

At 30 June 2016, 22.71 per cent* of court staff were eligible to retire. Accordingly, the Court continued to develop appropriate human resource strategies to ensure future capability and resourcing and to cope with staff turnover. These included promoting a clearer understanding of the capacity and capability of the Court's workforce and developing a risk management strategy that strengthens succession management for critical roles and leadership positions in the Court. The strategies were communicated to managers and staff, helping to ensure that succession plans were developed at local levels.

* As a percentage of staff numbers, excluding the judiciary and casuals

Retention strategies

Strategies to support the wellbeing of staff and to encourage staff retention are integral to the Court's commitment to workplace diversity. The strategies include the following options, benefits and initiatives.

Balancing work and personal life

The Court recognises the need to balance the operational needs of the Court and the personal lives of staff. Its employment arrangements provide for general and individual flexible working arrangements, including flex time, time off in lieu, part-time work, working from home opportunities, purchased leave, maternity, adoption, fostering and supporting partner's leave, salary sacrifice arrangements and paid time off work over Christmas and New Year.

A safe and healthy work environment

The Court provides a family-friendly and non-discriminatory work environment with strong policies against harassment and bullying. The Court and its employees are committed to measures that will assist with preventing and managing illness and injury, psychological injuries and assisting absent staff return to work as soon as reasonably practical. Other healthy work environment strategies include an employee assistance program that provides free professional counselling to employees and members of their immediate families, and free annual influenza vaccinations.

Workplace diversity

The Court recognises that diversity among its staff is one of its greatest assets. Valuing the distinctive characteristics in every employee and drawing on the diversity of our backgrounds, skills, talents and views to enhance the Court's working environment and the work of the Court, underpins the current workplace diversity plan.

Rewards and recognition

Recognition of staff in the form of positive feedback and celebration of achievement is an important part of the Court's culture and business practice. The Court's reward and recognition schemes recognise and reward employees for the achievement of corporate goals, providing non-cash incentives.

Australia Day achievement medallions

The Australia Day achievement medallions are awarded to a select group of Australian citizens each year. The awards recognise excellence in contribution by employees working in both government and non-government organisations, including the courts.

The Court's 2016 Australia Day Awards recognise the significant contribution and outstanding service provided by employees to the Court. This year's winners were:

Roland Andronicos, Sydney registry

The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO presents Roland Andronicos with his Australia Day award
The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO presents Roland Andronicos with his Australia Day award

Roland has been with the courts for almost eight years as a systems support officer. Roland successfully delivered excellent customer service between Sydney and Parramatta registries, attending to any IT issues (small or large). In addition, Roland found time to attend rural registries across NSW assisting with IT work, which he continues to do. Throughout his time with the courts, Roland has built a strong and reputable rapport with staff at all levels. His strong work ethic and dedication to the job extends further, with Roland being involved with project management work at his home registries, as well as nationwide for such projects as PC, SOE and printer replacements.

Antonia Dunne, Hobart registry

Antonia Dunne (holding her Australia Day Certificate) with staff members from Hobart registry
Antonia Dunne (holding her Australia Day certificate) with staff members from Hobart registry

Antonia has been with the courts for almost 13 years as a senior family consultant. Antonia does a significant amount of clinical work and is determined to bring about the best possible outcomes for children and families. Antonia has a strong work ethic, performs at a very high level and is an inspiring role model. Antonia embraces challenges, acting as Regional Coordinator Victoria/Tasmania for several months in 2006 and her skills and support were of great assistance. In addition to her normal workload, Antonia provides assistance to others in various ways such as her involvement with a number of committees and national projects; giving presentations at external conferences; as a member of the Psychology Board of Australia; and in chairing the courts' state-wide Family Violence Consultative Committee for nine years.

Michelle Cooley, Launceston registry

Figure 6.2 Family Court and Federal Circuit Court expenditure ($206.113 million), 2015-16
Michelle Cooley recieves her Australia Day award from the Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO

Michelle has been with the courts for almost 16 years as an operations manager. Michelle has overseen many changes to the physical appearance of the offices, and she has managed other building issues such as a month long shut down of the lift. Michelle has managed the work diaries and appointments for new family consultants over many years, and she has been a major influence on their work lives, and made long-term friendships as a result.

Andrew Bryant, Sydney registry

From left: The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO, Andrew Bryant and Chief Judge John Pascoe AC CVO
From left: The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO, Andrew Bryant and Chief Judge John Pascoe AC CVO

Andrew has been with the courts for almost 13 years as a client service officer. Andrew has earned the title of 'Number One Helper' at the Sydney registry. He goes out of his way to help individuals and his peers in Records, has a great personality, and is sorely missed when he takes his annual leave in January. Andrew takes his job very seriously and is the pride of the courts and the Jobsupport vocational training officer who touches base with him every four weeks. Andrew always smiles while doing an excellent job and has also been asked to pull the files for the divorce list and for judges. He is very careful in executing these tasks and loves his work and the people he works with.

Rupal Patel, National Enquiry Centre

Rupal Patel receives her Australia Day award from The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO
Rupal Patel receives her Australia Day award from the Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO

Rupal has been with the courts for almost nine years as a client service team leader. Rupal has always worked above and beyond her core duties and is prepared to help solve any issues that come up in the day-to-day running of the courts' business. She is an integral part of the National Enquiry Centre (NEC) and a fountain of knowledge which she is happy to share with anybody who requires help. She is passionately involved in training NEC staff and conducts regular meetings with new registry and chambers staff as part of their induction, with a focus on consistent practices and streamlining of procedures court-wide. She is always one step ahead of any changes to procedure and legislation, ensuring staff are ready to deal with information for litigants and lawyers.

Christine Tuff, National Support Office

The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO and Christine Tuff
The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO and Christine Tuff

Christine has been with the courts for four years as the webmaster. During 2015 Christine delivered not one, but two new websites for the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court, along with decommissioning the Family Law Courts website, working tirelessly to coordinate the rewrite and redistribution of the family law content it housed into the two new sites. Since launching in May 2015, the websites have greatly improved the delivery of vital information to court users. The development of the "How do I..." pages and their ease of navigation has greatly assisted unrepresented litigants navigate the court processes. The pages have also improved the way the NEC delivers information to clients via phone or Live Chat. Christine always goes above and beyond, regularly working outside of core hours to ensure daily court lists and critical content is available in a timely fashion and that technical issues are analysed and resolved directly or escalated to the appropriate person in the infrastructure team. She is committed to ensuring the websites deliver top quality services for court users and staff.

Years of service awards

Years of service awards are presented to employees who have been in court administration for more than 20, 25, 30 and 35 years. Recipients in 2015–16 follow:

20 years
  • Verity Brown – Registrar, Adelaide
  • Julie Egan – Team Leader Registry Services, Parramatta
  • Christina Herbst – Associate, Townsville
  • David William Hugall – Regional Coordinator, Child Dispute Services, Brisbane
  • Elizabeth Mary Ritchie – Client Service Officer, Melbourne
  • Cheryl Sanderson – Client Service Officer, Hobart
25 years
  • Leslye Dunn – Case Coordinator, Newcastle
  • Elizabeth Hore – Associate, Melbourne
  • Ronald Jarrett – Business Systems Development Officer, Brisbane
30 years
  • John FitzGibbon – Senior Registrar, Melbourne
  • Lynette Chin – Associate, Melbourne
  • Kenneth Kimmorley – Registrar, Parramatta
35 years
  • Ronald Bowles – Client Service Officer, Melbourne

Workforce Turnover

During 2015–16, 100 employees left the Court. Of these, 33 were non-ongoing and 67 were ongoing employees, representing an annual turnover rate of 13.28 per cent against total staff numbers (753) at 30 June 2016. For further information see Table 8.10 at Appendix three.

This compares with ongoing staff separations of 11.1 per cent in 2014–15, 11.5 cent in 2013–14, 10.1 per cent in 2012–13 and eight per cent in 2011–12.

Staffing profile

At 30 June 2016, the Court had 753 employees covered by the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia Enterprise Agreement 2011–2014, common law contracts or Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), but excluding judicial officers, the Chief Executive Officer and casual employees. This was a 2.5 per cent decrease compared with 772 employees at 30 June 2015. Appendix three provides a breakdown of staff by location, gender, attendance, ongoing and non-ongoing employment status.

Judicial officers

At 30 June 2016, the Court had 35 judges, including the Chief Justice (17 female and 18 male). For further information see Table 8.9 at Appendix three which shows the number of judges by location. The remuneration arrangements for all judicial officers and the Chief Executive Officer are governed by enforceable determinations of the Remuneration Tribunal. Further details including relevant determinations are available at: www.remtribunal.gov.au

Indigenous employment

At 30 June 2016, the Court had seven employees who identified as Indigenous (seven female); 0.9 per cent of total employee numbers.

The Australian Public Service Commissioner wrote to the Chief Executive Officer seeking support to improve the representation of Indigenous employees in the Commonwealth public sector.

Agreement Making

A single enterprise agreement for the courts

As mentioned previously, the courts' Enterprise Agreement came into effect on 1 July 2011, and although it has passed its nominal expiry date of 30 June 2014, under present arrangements, it will continue to operate until it is replaced or otherwise terminated.

Other agreements

Offers of AWAs to court employees ceased from 13 February 2008, in accordance with government policy; however at 30 June 2016, 12 employees had enforceable AWAs in place. Table 8.12 at Appendix three, sets out the AWA minimum and maximum salary ranges by classification. In some limited cases, the Court has used common law contracts or individual flexibility arrangements to provide supplementary conditions of employment for individuals covered by the Enterprise Agreement and determinations made by the Entity Head under section 24 of the Public Service Act 1999, to build upon existing AWA arrangements.

At 30 June 2016, eight employees had employment arrangements governed by enforceable common law contracts and three had employment arrangements governed by determination 24 instruments. See Table 8.11 at Appendix three for more detail.

Relationship between agreements

Terms and conditions of employment in the Court are governed by one or more of the following industrial instruments:

  • the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia Enterprise Agreement 2011–2014, covering all non-SES employees except those on AWAs
  • AWAs
  • individual determinations under s 24(1) of the Public Service Act 1999, or
  • individual common law contracts.

The Enterprise Agreement is a comprehensive agreement, however for some employees, it may be supported by either an individual flexibility agreement, a s 24(1) determination or a common law contract that provides additional terms and conditions (for example, as a way of retaining high-value employees).

AWAs may also be supported by individual s 24(1) determinations or common law contracts to provide for pay increases or additional terms and conditions, including non-salary benefits.

Senior Executive Service remuneration

Terms and conditions for the Court's Senior Executive Service (SES) employees are in common law contracts, AWAs and individuals 24(1) determinations made by the Chief Executive Officer. SES salaries are benchmarked against other public sector agencies and take account of the Court's budgetary position and the Government's workplace bargaining policy.

Non-salary benefits

Non-salary benefits provided by the Court to employees include:

  • motor vehicles
  • car parking
  • superannuation
  • access to salary sacrificing arrangements
  • computers, including home-based computer access
  • membership of professional associations
  • mobile phones
  • studies assistance
  • leave flexibilities
  • workplace responsibility allowances (for example, first aid, fire warden, community language), and
  • airline club memberships.

Performance pay arrangements

During 2015–16, the Court neither entered into any performance pay arrangements nor paid performance pay to any employee.

Training, Learning and Development

There have been a number of training initiatives run throughout the year. These include:

Family consultant training

Seminar series

Child Dispute Services (CDS) continued to run a monthly seminar series for family consultants, judges and family lawyers. The program was enhanced over 2015–16 by: including topics specifically identified by family consultants; ensuring a better balance of presenters in terms of academics and practitioners; and including a greater emphasis on internal knowledge. Topics covered included drug screening procedures, surrogacy and assisted reproductive technology, online parenting skills programs, family violence, childhood trauma, and post-separation interventions for high-conflict families.

Clinical induction program

The Clinical Induction Program requires all newly commencing family consultants to undertake six months of meetings, research and presentations. It is designed to ensure that all clinicians within CDS are familiar with the scholarly literature in key areas relevant to their work. This program continued in 2015–16, with a total of 10 new clinicians joining CDS.

Further evolution of the core knowledge database

The Core Knowledge Database is an extensive collection of book chapters and journal articles that are deemed to be salient to the work of court clinicians. In addition to the amendments in 2015 allowing papers to be rated by users (thus, serving as an additional filtering mechanism) this year saw the inclusion of several full text eBooks. This allowed a flexible alternative for family consultants to access comprehensive written material on key areas.

Conference presentations and attendance

In 2015–16 there was an increased focus on family consultants representing the courts at external forums and conferences. Some examples include gatherings of the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration, the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, and various other conferences focussing on family violence, trauma, and parent-child attachment.

Representation/publications

There were several publications outlining the work undertaken by family consultants during 2015–16, including papers in Every Child Magazine and InPSYCH. The purpose of this was to provide some general information to the wider community about the role, functions and mandate of court clinicians undertaking family assessments. In addition to more formal approaches, two videos were published on the courts' websites, designed to inform children about the process of seeing a family consultant (see page 80 for more information).

National conference

In June 2016, CDS held a national conference for family consultants, the first occasion in over eight years that such an event has been convened. Topics included family violence, parental alienation, parent-child observations, child interviewing and cross examination.

Family violence screening

One of the most significant projects of the year has been the piloting of a new approach to family violence screening by family consultants at s11F events. A new tool was developed and tested at Brisbane and Melbourne, with extremely positive results. The intention is to embark on a national implementation of this tool in 2016–17, which will involve all parents attending an s11F interview with a family consultant to complete a series of questions about their experience to family violence.

eLearning modules

In an effort to cater to all learning styles, the first of a series of clinical eLearning modules was developed in early 2016. This module, focussing on family violence, provides a continuing professional development opportunity for family consultants to undertake at their own pace, in their own time. The content is tailored to their specific work with the courts.

Continuing professional development framework for clinicians

To promote professional development and accountability for high quality practice and learning, a unified Continuing Professional Development (CPD) framework for all internal family consultants has been developed. This framework requires clinical staff to develop a CPD plan at the start of the financial year, identifying learning needs and actions to address these needs over the coming year. Thereafter, they will be required to accrue a minimum number of CPD points (roughly aligned with the amount of hours they have spent training in a given area) to demonstrate that they have successfully met and benefited from CPD expectations.

Registrar training

Registrars participated in a national in-house conference which focused on developing legal skills and knowledge. The program included segments on family violence, as well as on areas of professional development. The speakers included judges, the Chief Executive Officer of Domestic Violence NSW, Women's Legal Service, a researcher from the Australian Institute of Family Studies and a senior forensic accountant. Preliminary work has commenced on the development of an online eLearning package for registrars on family violence in accordance with the courts' Family Violence Plan.

Client service and chambers training

Training in registries and via video conference was undertaken throughout the year focussing on performance management, new supervisor training, emotional awareness and behaviours as well as some team building and coaching session.

Disability Reporting

Since 1994, Commonwealth departments and agencies have reported on their performance as policy adviser, purchaser, employer, regulator and provider under the Commonwealth Disability Strategy. In 2007–08, reporting on the employer role was transferred to the Australian Public Service Commission's State of the Service Report and the APS Statistical Bulletin. These reports are available at www.apsc.gov.au

From 2010–11, departments and agencies have no longer been required to report on these functions.

The Commonwealth Disability Strategy has been overtaken by the National Disability Strategy 2010–2020, which sets out a ten year national policy framework to improve the lives of people with disability, promote participation and create a more inclusive society. See www.dss.gov.au

Employee assistance program

The Family Court and its employees, through the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia Enterprise Agreement 2011–2014, have a commitment to ensuring psychological and physical wellbeing.

The Court's Employee Assistance Program, provided by Converge International, is a free, confidential counselling service for all court employees and their immediate families who are experiencing personal or work-related problems. Converge also provide a dedicated Manager Assistance Program to confidentially discuss issues which may arise as a result of being in a supervisory position.

Productivity Gains

The creation of a single entity in 2013, with all court staff working under a single Enterprise Agreement continued to produce efficiency savings for the courts through the more efficient allocation of resources, elimination of duplicated services and the rationalisation of court services. Synergies were achieved in the area of training, where program delivery was made available to the staff of both courts, thus reducing cost and capturing a greater number of staff.

Financial Management

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court is a non-corporate commonwealth entity under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.

Operating revenue and expenses

Total revenue for the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court in 2015–16 was $194.318 million, including appropriations from government ($152.502 million), other revenue ($1.781 million) and other gains ($40.035 million). Other Gains reflects notional revenue to pay for services received free of charge, comprised of Commonwealth Law Courts rent from the Department of Finance ($19.074 million), registry, migration and library services received from the Federal Court ($9.861 million), and liabilities assumed by related entities for the Judges' Pension Scheme ($11.100 million).

Operating expenditure for the 2015–16 financial year amounted to $206.113 million. Figure 6.2 provides a breakdown of the actual costs incurred by the courts for 2015–16. Of the total amount: 31 per cent is directly attributable to the Federal Circuit Court; 13 per cent is directly attributable to the first instance jurisdiction of the Family Court; and five per cent is directly attributable to the appellate jurisdiction of the Family Court. Depreciation and Amortisation, Asset Movements and Bad Debts, and property and other notional expenses not directly attributable to either jurisdiction comprise 20 per cent of the expenditure. The remaining 31 per cent of expenditure relates to services shared between the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court for registry and corporate services (Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Administration). A breakdown of the costs directly attributed to the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Administration is shown in Figure 6.3.

Operating result

For 2015–16 the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court has recorded a loss of $11.662 million after changes in asset revaluation and including Depreciation and Amortisation expenses.

Figure 6.2 Family Court and Federal Circuit Court expenditure ($206.113 million), 2015–16

Figure 6.2 Family Court and Federal Circuit Court expenditure ($206.113 million), 2015-16
 

Table 6.1 Categories of Family Court and Federal Circuit Court expenditure
Categories of Family Court and Federal Circuit Court expenditure
Family Court of Australia direct expenditure Expenses directly incurred by the judiciary appointed as First Instance judicial officers within the Family Court of Australia and includes judicial salary (and entitlements such as long leave and notional pension scheme contributions), judicial support staff costs (and employee entitlements, such as annual leave, long service leave and superannuation), travel costs (for circuits, judicial calendaring/relief), and court operation expenses (Regulation 7 Family Reports, court recording, transcription, interpreters).
Family Court of Australia appellate direct expenditure Expenses directly incurred by the judiciary assigned to the appellate jurisdiction of the Family Court of Australia and include judicial salary (and entitlements such as long leave and notional pension scheme contributions), judicial support staff costs (and employee entitlements, such as annual leave, long service leave and superannuation), travel costs (for Full Court, judicial calendaring/relief) and court operation expenses (Regulation 7 Family Reports, court recording, transcription, interpreters).
Federal Circuit Court of Australia direct expenditure Expenses directly incurred by the judiciary appointed to exercise federal and family law jurisdiction within the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and include judicial salary (and entitlements such as annual leave, long service leave, superannuation, and notional pension scheme contributions), judicial support staff costs (and employee entitlements, such as annual leave, long service leave and superannuation), travel costs (for circuits, judicial calendaring/relief), and court operation expenses (Regulation 7 Family Reports, court recording, transcription, interpreters). Includes registry and migration services provided free of charge in federal law matters to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia from the Federal Court of Australia.
Family Court and Federal Circuit Court admin: employee and supplier expenses Employee and supplier expenses incurred by registry and corporate services in supporting both the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. Details shown in Figure 6.3.
Property and library services received free of charge Expenses which the courts recognise but do not require any appropriation revenue from government. Includes services provided free of charge from the Department of Finance for courtrooms and chambers within Commonwealth Law Courts and library services from the Federal Court, and audit services from the Australian National Audit Office.
Shared property expenses Rent and property operating costs the courts incur for leased and Commonwealth Law Court premises. These are property costs for which the Court received appropriation revenue funding.
Depreciation and amortisation Expenses which the courts recognise but do not require any appropriation revenue from government. Appropriation funding for depreciation and amortisation ceased 30 June 2010 with the move to 'net cash' funding and was replaced with a Departmental Capital Budget to fund the replacement of court assets.

Figure 6.3 Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Administration expenditure ($63.699 million), 2015–16

Figure 6.2 Family Court and Federal Circuit Court expenditure ($206.113 million), 2015-16
 

Table 6.2 Categories of Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Administration expenditure
Categories of Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Administration expenditure
Corporate services Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to finance, human resources, property services and contract services.
Information technology services Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to the provision of information technology services to the courts.
Corporate costs Corporate costs are the employee entitlements expenses (long service leave, annual leave, superannuation) incurred by the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court support staff, along with fringe benefit expenses incurred by the Court's judiciary and SES for Fringe Benefit Tax liabilities for the provision of motor vehicles and other fringe benefits.
Principal, Child Dispute Services Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to the courts' Principal, Child Dispute Services.
CEO and support Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to the Office of the Chief Executive Officer, Marshal (including all contracted guarding costs) and the Communications team.
Registry services—client service Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to client service staff providing front line support to both the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
Registry services—registrars Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to registrar staff providing front line support to both the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
Registry services—family consultant Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to family consultant staff providing front line support to both the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
Registry services—administration Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to administration staff providing front line support to both the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
Registry services—Indigenous Family Liaison Officers Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to Indigenous Family Liaison Officers providing front line support to both the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

Administered revenue

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court received $60.010 million on behalf of the Commonwealth for court fees and fines. Administered revenue is not available to offset the courts' operating costs. Offsetting the administered revenue collected by the courts on behalf of the Commonwealth were refunds of fees ($0.243 million), and write down and impairment of assets for bad and doubtful debts ($0.800 million). The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court also receive an administered appropriation to source primary dispute resolution services such as counselling, mediation and conciliation from community-based organisations for litigants in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. In 2015–16 the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court incurred $0.525 million for these primary dispute resolution services. This resulted in a total comprehensive income of $58.442 million which was returned to government.

Events after the reporting period

In accordance with a 2015–16 Budget decision by the Australian Government, the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court will cease to operate as a government entity. Although the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia will remain independent Chapter III courts under Australian Constitution, the Government entity under which they operated will be merged with that of the Federal Court of Australia from 1 July 2016.

Purchasing, Consultants and Contracts

The Court's Procurement and Risk Management section assists staff undertaking procurement and manages a number of corporate contracts. The section also manages, or has significant involvement in, all complex procurement undertaken by the Court to ensure compliance with legislative obligations and the Commonwealth Procurement Rules. The Accountable Authority Instructions, the Commonwealth Procurement Rules and the Court's Procurement Framework are all on the intranet as reference material for court staff.

The core policies and principles of the Commonwealth Procurement Rules were, as far as practicable, adhered to throughout 2015–16. The Court's Annual Procurement Plan was published meeting mandatory reporting requirements. An appropriate market approach was made for all procurements covered by the rules.

All contracts let in 2015–16 had provision for the Auditor-General to access contractors' premises.

Consultants

During 2015–16:

  • two new consultancy contracts were entered into involving total actual expenditure of $73,700 (GST inclusive), and
  • four ongoing consultancy contracts were active involving total actual expenditure of $351,121 (GST inclusive).

Total actual expenditure on consultancy contracts for 2015–16 was $424,821 (GST inclusive).

The process of engagement of all consultants is required to adhere to the procedures described in the Court's Procurement Framework and is categorised in accordance with the following:

A—skills currently unavailable within the Court

B—need for specialised or professional skills

C—need for independent research or assessment.

Depending on the particular needs, value and risks (as set out in the Court's Procurement Framework) the Court uses open tender, prequalified tender and limited tender for its consultancies. The Court is a relatively small user of consultants. As such the Court has no specific policy by which consultants are engaged, other than within the broad frameworks above, related to skills unavailability within the Court or when there is need for specialised and/or independent research or assessment.

Information on expenditure on all court contracts and consultancies is available on the AusTender website www.tenders.gov.au

No contracts were let to an organisation for the delivery of services previously performed by the Court during the reporting period.

Exempt contracts

During the reporting period, no contracts or standing offers were exempt from publication on AusTender in terms of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

Procurement initiatives to support small business

The Court supports small business participation in the Commonwealth Government procurement market. Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) and Small Enterprise participation statistics are available on the Department of Finance's website at www.finance.gov.au/procurement/statistics-on-commonwealth-purchasing-contracts/

The Court recognises the importance of ensuring that SMEs are paid on time. The results of the Survey of Australian Government Payments to Small Business are available on the Treasury's website at http://www.treasury.gov.au/PublicationsAndMedia/Publications/2014/sml-bus-performance-report

In doing so, the Court utilises some of the following initiatives or practices:

  • the Commonwealth Contracting Suite for low-risk procurements valued under $200,000, and
  • electronic systems or other processes used to facilitate on-time payment performance, including the use of payment cards.

Assets and Property Management

Asset management

The Family Court of Australia is located in shared Commonwealth owned facilities (Commonwealth Law Courts) in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne, Parramatta and Sydney. The Court also occupies privately leased facilities in Albury, Cairns, Dandenong, Dubbo, Launceston, Lismore, Newcastle, Townsville and Wollongong, and shares the state court facility in Alice Springs, Coffs Harbour, Darwin and Rockhampton.

Projects

Melbourne

An upgrade to the subpoena viewing room was completed in 2016. The project addressed the layout and functionality of the space. The new layout provides additional space to view subpoena documents and increases security within the area.

Cairns

Works were completed in February 2016 to improve the acoustic performance of the level three interview rooms and the child dispute assessment area (a total four rooms). The outcome of the project reduces the risk of confidential conversations being overheard.

Townsville

A reconfiguration of the witness box and bar table of courtroom one was completed in February 2016. The project provides additional distance from the witness box to the bar table which results in a less confrontational environment for witnesses.

Melbourne registry

Newcastle

The lessor undertook significant base building works in 2016, which resulted in improved services within the registry. In line with this work, a range of works was undertaken by the Court to improve the amenity of the registry. This included increasing the seating capacity in the public waiting areas, creating an improved subpoena viewing room, painting common areas and re-carpeting. The project also increased storage within the building which included the installation of additional compactus. The project has refreshed the registry and improved amenities for staff, litigants and lawyers.

Sydney

The Court worked in collaboration with the Department of Finance, who funded the works, on a major project to improve the Child Dispute Services area of the Lionel Bowen Building. The fitout included refurbishing the reception area, childcare room, observation and meeting rooms. The works have resulted in a space that is welcoming for families and especially for children who are required to attend the Court building.

Correction of errors in 2014–15 report

The Court has no matters to report.

In Focus: New Commonwealth Courts Portal video

Link to the eFiling your family law matter in the Commonwealth Courts Portal video
 

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court have developed a second Commonwealth Courts Portal video to assist unrepresented litigants.

The video, eFiling your family law matter in the Commonwealth Courts Portal, explains how to file documents and manage cases online through the Portal. Specifically, it provides instructions such as how to:

  • register
  • login
  • start a new file
  • link a file
  • search for files, and
  • access and print a proof of divorce.

These topics were identified as some of the most commonly asked questions during Live Chat.

The courts are increasingly moving towards more electronic services, as seen with the 2016 announcement that divorce is moving online.

eFiling has many benefits: there is no need to visit or queue at registries, filing fee payments are processed securely, 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. Using the Commonwealth Courts Portal also increases efficiency and assists in reducing the costs of litigation.

The video is available on the Court's YouTube channel www.youtube.com/user/familycourtAU and on the Family Court website www.familycourt.gov.au