Corporate governance

The Chief Justice, assisted by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Principal Registrar, is responsible for managing the administrative affairs of the Court.

Under the Constitution, judicial power is vested in judges who administer that power in court. The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) states that the Court shall consist of a Chief Justice, a Deputy Chief Justice and senior judges and other judges. By delegation from the Chief Justice, case management judges assist in administering judicial functions in particular areas, such as case management. The judges’ committee structure facilitates collegiate involvement of the judges of the Court.

The Family Court of Australia (FCoA) is autonomously governed; that is, the Chief Justice 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, who are public servants, provide that support. In addition, there are arrangements in place with other courts for the supply of services.

The CEO and Principal Registrar is subject to directions from the Chief Justice. The agency head under the Public Service Act 1999 is the CEO and Principal Registrar of the Federal Court of Australia (FCA), who is also currently the FCoA’s acting CEO and Principal Registrar.

Figure 6.1 shows the organisational structure of the Court.

Figure 6.1: Organisational structure of the Family Court of Australia, 30 June 2018

Judicial officers

At 30 June 2018, there were 33 judicial positions in the Court, including the Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice.

Photo of Chief Justice John Pascoe AC CVO

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 CEO and Principal Registrar (s 38B). The Chief Justice’s chambers are located in the Sydney registry. Chief Justice John Pascoe AC CVO was appointed Chief Justice of the FCoA on 13 October 2017.

Deputy Chief Justice

The Deputy Chief Justice assists the Chief Justice in the judicial administration of the 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). Deputy Chief Justice William Alstergren was appointed on 15 December 2017. Deputy Chief Justice Alstergren is also the Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (FCC).

Judges assigned to the Appeal Division

Judge

Appointed to the Appeal Division

The Honourable Chief Justice John Pascoe AC CVO

13 October 2017

The Honourable Deputy Chief Justice William Alstergren

15 December 2017

The Honourable Justice Stephen Ernest Thackray
Chief Judge of the Family Court of Western Australia

16 December 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

The Honourable Justice Garry Allan Watts

21 June 2018

The Honourable Justice Stewart Craig Austin

21 June 2018

Family Court of Australia Judges – 30 June 2018

Adelaide

The Honourable Justice Steven Andrew Strickland

22 November 1999

The Honourable Justice David Michael Berman

18 July 2013

Brisbane

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

The Honourable Justice Michael Baumann AM

11 January 2018

Canberra

The Honourable Justice Shane Leslie Gill

16 May 2016

Hobart

The Honourable Justice Robert James Charles Benjamin AM

19 August 2005

Melbourne

The Honourable Deputy Chief Justice William Alstergren

13 October 2017

The Honourable Justice Victoria Jane Bennett AO

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 Chief Justice John Pascoe AC CVO

13 October 2017

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 FCoA.

Judge

Date of FCoA commission

Chief Judge The Honourable Justice Stephen Ernest Thackray

1 December 2004

The Honourable Justice Simon Moncrieff

31 August 2009

The Honourable Justice Susan Janet Duncanson

6 December 2012

The Honourable Justice Richard O’Brien

12 April 2016

The Honourable Justice Gail Sutherland

12 February 2018

Judges appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal

  • The Honourable Justice Janine Stevenson
  • The Honourable Justice Victoria Bennett AO
  • The Honourable Justice Colin Forrest
  • The Honourable Justice David Berman
  • The Honourable Justice Robert James Charles Benjamin AM

Appointments and retirements

Judicial officer appointments

  • Chief Justice John Pascoe AC CVO was appointed to the Court on 13 October 2017.
  • Justice Michael Baumann AM was appointed to the Court on 11 January 2018.
  • Justice Gail Sutherland (Family Court of Western Australia) received a dual commission to the Court on 12 February 2018.
  • Justice Garry Watts was appointed to the Appeal Division of the Court on 21 June 2018.
  • Justice Stewart Austin was appointed to the Appeal Division of the Court on 21 June 2018.
Photo of Justice Baumann

The Honourable Justice Michael Baumann AM

Photo of Justice Watts

The Honourable Justice Garry Watts

Photo of Justice Austin

The Honourable Justice Stewart Austin

Judicial officer retirements

  • The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO retired on 12 October 2017.
  • The Honourable Justice Michelle May AM retired on 31 July 2017.
Photo of Justice Bryant

The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO

Photo of Justice May

The Honourable Justice Michelle May AM

Senior executives

Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar

The CEO and Principal Registrar is appointed to assist the Chief Justice to administer the Court. The CEO and Principal Registrar’s powers are broad (s 38D Family Law Act 1975), although subject to directions from the Chief Justice (s 38D(3)). Warwick Soden OAM was appointed acting CEO and Principal Registrar in January 2018.

Senior Registrar

This is the most senior quasi-judicial position in the Court and has been held by John FitzGibbon since 1999. John sits in court full-time, hearing and determining cases in both parenting and financial proceedings. Most of his court work concerns urgent and interim parenting applications, including all of Victoria’s Magellan cases involving serious allegations of child physical abuse and child sexual abuse and family violence. He assumed that responsibility in 2011 at the request of the Chief Justice. John is also a member of the Rules Committee and is regularly sought to assist in training lawyers.

Deputy Principal Registrar

The Deputy Principal Registrar is responsible for providing legal, policy and procedural advice and support to the Chief Justice, the CEO and Principal Registrar and the staff of the Court. Virginia Wilson commenced in the position in September 2017. Other responsibilities include the handling of complaints, managing compliance with privacy and freedom of information legislation and support to a number of judicial committees.

Judicial committees

Policy Advisory Committee

At the strategic level, this committee is the peak policymaking 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 Court and its users.

During 2017–18 members of the Policy Advisory Committee included:

  • The Honourable Chief Justice John Pascoe AC CVO (Chair)
  • The Honourable Deputy Chief Justice William Alstergren
  • The Honourable Justice Judith Ryan
  • The Honourable Justice Robert Benjamin AM
  • The Honourable Justice Stewart Austin
  • The Honourable Justice Robert McClelland
  • The Honourable Justice Michael Baumann AM, and
  • Acting CEO and Principal Registrar Warwick Soden.

Finance Committee

The Finance Committee’s principal focus is to:

  • consider and define the full cost and budgetary requirements of the FCoA
  • 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 FCoA 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 2017–18 members of the Finance Committee included Justice Benjamin (Chair), Justice Watts and Justice Austin.

Rules Committee

The Rules Committee is established in contemplation of s 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 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 FCoA for its clients. The committee also undertakes detailed consideration of discrete issues as required.

During 2017–18, the Rules Committee met in person on one occasion – on 1 September 2017. Justice Rees is the Convenor of the committee and the members during the year were Justice Ryan, Justice Loughnan, Justice Berman, Magistrate Moroni, Senior Registrar FitzGibbon, Deputy Principal Registrar Wilson and Registrar Paxton.

During 2017–18, the committee worked on a number of projects including amendments to the Family Law Rules 2004 (Cth) secured by the Family Law Amendment (2018 Measures No. 1) Rules 2018. The amending rules commenced on 1 March 2018.

Court Performance Committee

The Court Performance Committee is chaired by Justice Austin and its membership comprises all registry case management and Magellan judges.

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 that 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.

Due to the increasing vigilance of the registry Magellan teams, cases are not categorised so easily as ‘Magellan’, which means the truly deserving cases are getting closer and faster attention.

As at 30 June 2018 there were 143 active Magellan cases.

Professional Development and Judicial Welfare Committee

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, chaired by Justice Ainslie-Wallace, assists the Chief Justice in the dissemination of information Her Honour considers should be brought to the attention of the judges.

The committee also develops education programs and puts in place mechanisms to support judges to maintain resilience and to provide orientation for new appointments.

Activities were conducted as part of the Annual Judge’s Conference in Melbourne on 4–6 October 2017. Activities are also planned for the 2018 Judge’s Conference on 28–30 October 2018.

Family Law Litigation Costs Working Group

This working group was established in March 2018 to examine the issue of costs (and delays) in family law litigation. It will include members of the legal profession and will operate only in the Court’s supervisory role in relation to costs, equivalent to the role of a superior court. Preliminary meetings will be initially held in Sydney and Melbourne.

The working group will be chaired by Justice Stevenson and the initial membership is as follows:

  • Justice Benjamin
  • Justice Watts, and
  • Justice McClelland.

Australian Law Reform Commission Family Law Review Committee

On 17 August 2017, the then Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, asked the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to review the family law system, to report on 31 March 2019. The Court established a committee to advise the Chief Justice on matters pertaining to the review including the Court’s submission to the ALRC. The committee assisted in the preparation of the Chief Justice’s submission to the Issues Paper.

The committee is chaired by Justice Strickland (the judge responsible for matters of law reform). Other members include:

  • Justice Ryan
  • Justice Watts
  • Justice Loughnan
  • Justice Carew
  • Justice O’Brien (Family Court of Western Australia), and
  • Deputy Principal Registrar Wilson (Secretariat).

Work of the sub-committees

Children’s Committee

The Children’s Committee, a joint initiative between the FCoA and FCC, meets regularly to explore the work to be undertaken with respect to the involvement of children in parenting proceedings and improving the experiences of children in the family law system.

The committee has established and is building links with the Australian Children’s Contact Services Association.

Membership for 2017–18 included:

  • Judge Cole (FCC)
  • Justice Moncrieff (Family Court of Western Australia)
  • Justice Forrest (FCoA)
  • Janet Carmichael (Principal Child Dispute Services, FCC)
  • Kylie Beckhouse (Legal Aid NSW)
  • Alexandra Wearne (Independent Children’s Lawyer, NSW)
  • Kate Bint (Independent Children’s Lawyer, Qld), and
  • Gayathri Paramasivam (Victoria Legal Aid).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Outreach Committee

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Outreach Committee continues 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 together to enable and facilitate the participation of Indigenous Australians in the Court’s operations and processes.

The committee continues to undertake work to:

  • develop a court protocol for Acknowledgement of Country at court events
  • examine the potential for a resource of information relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander outreach issues to be available for general access
  • establish and build a link between the Court’s registries and local Indigenous leaders, and
  • collaborate with the Family Court of Western Australia, the FCC, state courts and tribunals, the National Judicial College and relevant state judicial education authorities such as the Judicial Commission of NSW.

Committee Chair, Justice Benjamin, met with a large number of leaders of Indigenous communities during 2017 and 2018 to discuss issues arising from the intersection of family law and child protection law. Work was also undertaken in 2017–18 to produce a Reconciliation Action Plan for the FCoA. The plan was due to be officially launched in July 2018.

Family Violence Committee

The Family Violence Committee is a joint committee of the FCoA and the FCC. The committee’s principal responsibility is to provide advice to the Chief Justice, the Chief Judge and the CEO and Principal Registrar of both courts on the issue of family violence.

In discharging this responsibility, the committee reviews and updates the courts’ Family Violence Plan and Family Violence Best Practice Principles, as well as undertaking discrete projects.

Membership of the committee at 30 June 2018 was:

  • Judge Hughes (Chair)
  • Justice Stevenson
  • Justice Ryan
  • Justice Hannam
  • Judge Brown
  • Judge Spelleken
  • Judge Terry
  • Judge Bender
  • Janet Carmichael
  • Di Lojszczyk, and
  • Melissa Buhagiar (Secretariat).

The committee’s major project was the continued implementation of the Family Violence Plan 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.

Collaborative committees

Joint Costs Advisory Committee

The committee comprises representatives of the four federal courts: the High Court of Australia, the FCA, the FCoA and the FCC.

Membership as at 30 June 2018 was:

  • Justice Benjamin AM, FCoA (Chair)
  • Philippa Lynch, CEO and Principal Registrar, High Court of Australia
  • John Mathieson, Deputy Principal Registrar, FCA
  • Adele Byrne, Deputy Principal Registrar, FCC, and
  • Virginia Wilson, Deputy Principal Registrar.

Scales of costs

The current cost scales for each of the federal courts are provided for in the following legislation:

  • High Court Rules 2004 Schedule 2
  • Federal Court Rules 2011 Schedule 3
  • Family Law Rules 2004 Schedule 3, and
  • Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 Schedule 1.

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. This requirement, in Part II of the FOI Act, has replaced the former requirement to publish a Section 8 statement in an annual report.

An agency plan showing what information is published in accordance with the Information Publication Scheme requirements is accessible from agency websites.

The Freedom of Information and the Information Publication Scheme agency plan for the FCoA can be found at www.familycourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fcoaweb/contact-us/freedom-of-information-and-information-publication-scheme/foi-ips-plan.

Access to information outside the Freedom of Information Act

Rule 24.13 of the Family Law Rules 2004 provides that a search of the Court’s records may be undertaken by the Attorney-General, a party, a lawyer for a party, a child representative, a child welfare authority if the case affects, or may affect, the welfare of a child, a person granted leave by the Court or a registrar. Leave may be granted if a proper interest is shown and may be subject to conditions, or for a person researching the court record.

There are other legislative provisions that limit publication in various proceedings; for example, s 121 Family Law Act 1975. In addition, Part XIA of the Family Law Act 1975 gives the Court general power to suppress/prohibit publication of evidence.

Enquiries concerning access to documents or Freedom of Information matters generally should be directed to:

Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar
Family Court of Australia
GPO Box 9991
Adelaide SA 5001

or emailed to clientfeedback@familycourt.gov.au.

Further advice on making Freedom of Information requests may be obtained by calling 08 8219 1641.

The Court received three Freedom of Information requests during 2017–18. At 30 June 2018, there were no matters outstanding before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Categories of documents

The Family Court registries maintain the following categories of documents on behalf of the Court:

  • documents relating to matters heard by the Court including applications, affidavits, transcripts, orders and copies of judgments
  • registers and indexes of matters coming to the Court, and
  • general correspondence.

The Family Court maintains the following categories of documents:

  • general correspondence
  • documents concerning the development and implementation of policy, guidelines and procedures, and
  • documents concerning the Court’s administrative operations.

Other documents

The Court holds and makes available on request a range of documents including brochures, fact sheets and general information leaflets. These are available on the Court’s website at www.familycourt.gov.au.

Privacy

The Court holds personal information for two purposes:

  • to help resolve and, if necessary, determine matters before the Court (the judicial purpose), and/or
  • to assist in administration (the administrative purpose).

Information used for judicial purposes is held in case files and the case management computer system. This information is exempt from the Privacy Act 1988 and Freedom of Information Act 1982. Other statutory provisions and non-publication powers of the Court, designed to protect parties and their children, are applicable to this information.

Information used for administrative purposes is collected as part of the day-to-day running of the Court. Many documents for administrative purposes are held by the FCA as the provider of the corporate services for the Court.

During the year, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner conducted its 2018 Information Publication Scheme survey of Australian Government agencies. The purpose of the survey is to review the operation of the Information Publication Scheme within each Australian Government agency. The Court, as a prescribed agency subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982, participated in this survey.

The Australian Government Agencies Privacy Code came into force on 1 July 2018. Agencies are required to take reasonable steps to implement practices, procedures and systems to ensure compliance with the code. Consistent with these requirements, the Court has the following in place:

  • Privacy Management Plan 2018–19
  • Privacy Impact Assessment Policy, and
  • Data Breach Response Plan.

These documents can be accessed on the Court’s website at www.familycourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fcoaweb/contact-us/privacy/.

In addition, the Court has a designated Privacy Champion and Privacy Officer.

Feedback and service improvements

Feedback helps to drive service improvement and the Court invites feedback, including suggestions and complaints, about administrative matters such as privacy, security, a court policy, or the way correspondence has been handled.

Full details about feedback and complaints are contained in Part 3 of this report (Report on court performance), but in summary, in 2017–18, the Court received:

  • 13 complaints about FCoA services
  • 8 complaints arising from services provided by the FCC or other third parties and relating to FCoA matters
  • 10 complaints about judicial conduct, and
  • 9 complaints about the time taken in the delivery of a judgment.

External and internal scrutiny

Commonwealth Ombudsman

The Commonwealth Ombudsman made no adverse report specific to the FCoA during 2017–18.

Freedom of Information

The Court received three Freedom of Information requests during 2017–18.

Action in defamation

There were no actions in defamation during 2017–18.

Senate Estimates Hearings – Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee

Senior Executive Service staff of the Court attend estimates committee hearings to answer questions about the Court’s activities. In 2017–18, 11 questions on notice were received and answered by the FCoA.

Correction of errors in the 2016–17 annual report

Page 3 of the 2016–17 annual report stated that the number of Full Court judgments published to AustLII during that reporting year was 216. This should have been 277.