Chat with us, powered by LiveChat
CONTACT US (07) 3816 9555

COVID-19 and the Implications for Family & Federal Circuit Courts

Covid 19 & the implications for family & Federal Circuit Courts


Following the developments in the COVID-19 situation, and the need to protect staff and all visitors to the family and Federal Circuit court, the court has decided to close its public facing counters and cease face-to face services from Tuesday 24 March 2020.

While the counters are closed, court staff are still working in registries and remotely to provide services and support to law practitioners and litigants via phone and other online services.

In urgent circumstances, face-to-face services may be provided after initial assessment via telephone.

You can contact the court on the following numbers:

Family law enquiries: 1300 352 000
General Federal Law enquiries: 1300 720 980

This has been a difficult decision but one that is 100% focussed on the safety and wellbeing of staff, court users and the community

THE CHANGES
The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Courts), the profession and the community are facing unprecedented challenges. COVID-19 is having a direct impact on the way the Courts are able to administer justice for Australian families. The Courts must adhere to the requirements that have been imposed by the Government. As a result, they cannot administer justice in the usual way, and significant changes have had to be made. The Courts are required to balance the health and safety of the community, the profession, Judges and staff with the need to continue this essential service. It is of paramount importance that the Courts minimise risk to all when conducting court hearings.

The Courts will continue to conduct court work based on the advice of the Commonwealth Government Department of Health and the Chief Medical Officer.

Work will be conducted in the Courts in the near future will be by telephone, and when it becomes available, videoconferencing. Only urgent matters will be dealt with by face-to-face hearings or interviews, which will be conducted pursuant to the face-to-face in-court protocol and face-to-face interview protocol (below).

The protocols set out regarding in court and face to face interviews are as follows:

PRINCIPLES

The key overarching principles relating to the work of Registrars and Child Dispute Services (CDS) during the period of the special arrangements for COVID-19 are as follows:

  1. Prioritising the safety of the community, Judges, Registrars, CDS and staff minimising the number of people in Court and implementing social distancing practices.
  2. The principle basis upon which work will be conducted by Registrars and CDS in the near future will be by telephone, and to the extent possible, by video technology. All work that can be shifted to telephone/video should be transitioned immediately.
  3. Only urgent or priority matters will be dealt with by in-court face-to-face hearings or interviews.
  4. Any face-to-face hearings or interviews will be conducted in accordance with the relevant face-to-face protocol, including in relation to social distancing requirements.

REGISTRARS

  1. DIVORCE LISTS

In the case of Divorce Lists the following telephone appearance procedure is to apply:

  1. Joint applications – will be done on the papers and parties are not required to attend Court.
  2. Sole applications –
    1. will be done on the papers if there are no children to the marriage and parties are not required to attend Court.
    2. will require attendance via telephone by parties and lawyers if there are children under the age of 18 years.
  3. Where Court attendance is required, each matter currently listed will be sent an email advising that parties are to attend a virtual courtroom and will be provided a number to dial-in to the virtual courtroom. Parties and lawyers will also be requested to provide their direct contact details  to each Registrar no later than 4:00pm two business days prior to the listing
  4. Respondents who request to appear in court personally should be advised to attend via telephone.
  5. If the applicant is seeking orders for dispensation of service, these will also be dealt with by telephone.
  6. If parties or lawyers still appear personally, rather than by telephone, the face-to-face in-court protocol will apply.
  7. Divorce lists will be staggered into 3 time slots per day. Each time slot will have a maximum of 10-12 matters listed.
  8. Rather than a single Registrar, the divorce list will be split between two Registrars who will conduct staggered telephone attendances.
  1. FEDERAL CIRCUIT COURT (FCoA) – REGISTRAR DIRECTIONS LISTS

In the case of FCoA Registrar Directions Lists the following telephone appearance procedure is to apply:

  1. All FCoA Registrar Directions Lists will be conducted by telephone where limited to a procedural issue.
  2. Where a matter is contested, written submissions are to be filed at the direction of the Registrar with orders to be made in chambers.
  3. Parties with a matter currently listed will be sent an email by Registry staff advising of the above. In response to the email, parties and lawyers should provide their direct contact details to each Registrar no later than 4:00pm two business days prior to the listing. Parties must ensure they are available by telephone until they receive the Court’s call.
  4. In the event that parties are in agreement as to the future conduct of the matter, proposed interim consent minutes should be submitted as soon as possible by email to the Registrar for consideration.
  1. DISCRETE PROPERTY LISTS, PPP500 LISTS AND CONTRAVENTION LISTS

In the case of Discrete Property Lists, PPP500 Lists and Contravention Lists the following telephone appearance procedure is to apply:

  1. All Discrete Property Lists, PPP500 Lists and Contravention Lists will be conducted via telephone.
  2. Parties with a matter currently listed will be sent an email by Registry staff advising of the above. In response to the email, parties and lawyers are requested to provide their direct contact details to each Registrar no later than 4:00pm two business days prior to the listing. Parties must ensure they are available by telephone until they receive the Court’s call.
  3. In the event that parties are in agreement as to the future conduct of the matter, proposed interim consent minutes should be submitted by email to the Registrar for consideration as soon as possible.
  4. In relation to matters in the Contravention Lists, where a matter needs to be listed before a judge for a contested hearing, the prioritisation of the matter will be at the discretion of the Judge. Any future listings will be subject to judicial capacity.
  1. CONFERENCES AND ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION (ADR) EVENTS e.g Mediation, Arbitration, Conciliation.

In the case of Conferences the following telephone or video procedure is to apply:

  1. Final defended cases that are assessed to be of a lower priority, may be sent to an ADR event, and the trial otherwise adjourned to a date to be advised. All Case Assessment Conferences and Conciliation Conferences will be conducted via telephone or via video.
  2. Where Conferences are to be conducted via telephone/video, parties will be sent an email which will include dial-in details. Parties will also be requested to provide their direct contact details to each Registrar no later than 4:00pm two business days prior to the listing.
  3. Where Conferences are to be conducted using Microsoft Teams or other platform, parties will be sent participation details.
  4. Lawyers and parties are still required to provide/exchange the usual documents in advance of the Conciliation Conference (as ordered by the Judge/Registrar) and proposed orders to both the Court and to the other party prior to the conference.
  1. FEDERAL CIRCUIT COURT (FCoA) SENIOR REGISTRAR LISTS

In the case of FCoA Senior Registrar Lists the following procedure is to apply:

  1. Parties and lawyers should attend interim hearings by telephone to the greatest extent possible.
  2. The parties and lawyers are still required to provide a short case outline, identifying the evidence they wish to rely upon together with a minute of proposed orders.
  3. Parties with a matter currently listed will be sent an email by Registry staff advising of the above. In response to the email, parties and lawyers are requested to provide their direct contact details to each Senior Registrar’s chambers no later than 4:00pm two business days prior to the listing. Parties must ensure they are available by telephone until they receive the Court’s call.
  4. Parties who request to appear in Court personally should contact the Senior Registrar’s chambers by email and provide a brief outline as to why the matter is urgent and should remain listed for a face-to-face hearing.
  5. Matters in a Senior Registrar Magellan Lists will be treated as urgent.
  6. If the Senior Registrar directs the parties and lawyers to appear personally, a face-to-face hearing should strictly adhere to the Face-to-face In-court Protocol.

CHILD DISPUTE SERVICES

  1. CHILD DISPUTE CONFERENCES

In the case of Child Dispute Conferences, the following procedure is to apply:

  1. All Child Dispute Conferences (CDCs) will be conducted by telephone or videoconferencing.
  2. Family Consultants will contact the parties directly.
  1. CHILD INCLUSIVE CONFERENCES

In the case of Child Inclusive Conferences, the following procedure is to apply:

  1. For all new orders, Judges have been strongly encouraged by the Chief Justice to order Child Dispute Conferences (CDCs) (which will be conducted via telephone), rather than Child Inclusive Conferences (CICs), given the difficulty of having face-to-face contact. Therefore it is expected that CICs will be ordered only where there is an urgent requirement for a Family Consultant to see the children.
  2. Existing orders for Child Inclusive Conferences (CICs) will, subject to the views of the Judge or Senior Registrar, be serviced as CDCs.
  3. Where a CIC has been ordered, it will be conducted consistent with the Face-to-face Protocol as far as possible.
  1. CHILD RESPONSIVE PROGRAM (FCoA)

In the case of Child Responsive Program, the following procedure is to apply:

  1. Meetings with the adult parties Meetings Including Adults (MIA) will be conducted by telephone.
  2. Necessary meetings with children – meeting Children and Families (MCF) will proceed in-person as arranged at the Registry decided by the individual Family Consultant, in conjunction with their manager, and a Judge with necessary.
  3. Meetings with children will be conducted consistent with the Face-to-face Protocol as far as possible.
  1. FAMILY REPORTS

In the case of Family Reports, the following procedure is to apply:

  1. Interviews with adult parties will be conducted via telephone (or video). Adult parties will be contacted by Child Dispute Services staff or, where interviews are to be conducted using Microsoft, parties will be sent participation details.
  2. Meetings with children will be conducted consistent with the Face-to-face Protocol as far as possible.

FACE TO FACE COURT PROTICOL

This protocol is designed to reduce the risk of being in close contact1 with a court user who may be infectious. This is the most appropriate way, at present, for the court to balance important health and safety considerations of judges, staff and the community with the need to continue this vital work for Australian families.

The significant features of the face-to-face in court protocol for Registrars are set out below for the information of the profession.

  1. Listings

Federal  Circuit Court (FCoA) Interim Hearings

Priority should be given to urgent matters (e.g. matters involving risks of family violence) that the Senior Registrar considers cannot be dealt with over the telephone.

Listings will be staggered to reduce the number of people waiting in the foyer/registry building. A list will be collated each day by the Judicial Services Team Leader to ensure that hearing times are sufficiently staggered to allow for cleaning.

Matter(s) will not be listed for more than 1.5 hours, and with sufficient space in between to allow cleaning to occur.

To reduce the length of any face-to-face hearing, where possible, it should be complemented with written submissions or telephone hearings if necessary.

  1. Courtrooms and courtroom procedure

No party is to enter the courtroom before their matter is called.

No more than 8 people (excluding the Registrar and Court Officer) should be in the courtroom at any one time.

Counsel, solicitors and parties are to adhere to social distancing by sitting in appropriately distanced seats as indicated in the courtroom diagram attached (i.e. at least 1.5 to 2 metres apart).

Parties are to leave the courtroom immediately after their hearing has concluded, and then make their way promptly to the Registry exit.

  1. Cleaning

Additional cleaning of courtrooms that are used for face-to-face hearings will occur as often as practicable when the court is adjourned during the day.

Hearings will be conducted for not more than 1.5 hours in the same matter. After that period, the courtroom will be closed and appropriate surface cleaning will take place.

To ensure the safety of staff, lawyers, litigants and witnesses, the same matter should not continue after the first 1.5 hour period.

  1. Security

Security screening should be staggered appropriately. Security will be instructed to ensure social distancing is observed whilst court attendees are queuing for security.

The Court is currently investigating the availability of contactless thermometers to allow for non-invasive temperature measurements prior to parties/practitioners entering the Registry buildings.

  1. Court attendees displaying symptoms

In the event that any court attendee is ill or display any symptoms of COVID-19, they should immediately notify the Court and proceed to leave the Registry. The Court will be adjourned and appropriate steps taken, including any deep cleaning required.

Footnote:

1 A close contact is typically someone who has been face-to-face for at least 15 minutes, or been in the same closed space for at least 2 hours, with a person that was infectious (World Health Organisation definition).

(Courtesy : Family Court of Australia & Federal Circuit Court of