Wednesday, 18 March 2020

More Family Court COVID-19 arrangements

Following on from yesterday's news, the Family and Federal Circuit Courts have announced changes to registrars and child dispute services procedures in response to COVID-19, effective immediately:



FROM THE FAMILY COURT OF AUSTRALIA AND THE FEDERAL CIRCUIT COURT OF AUSTRALIA

Managing the health and safety of the community, Judges and staff is our priority. Due to the escalating situation regarding COVID-19, and in anticipation of any further measures announced by Government, some urgent operational arrangements will be put in place effective immediately (unless otherwise noted) across the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court (the ‘Courts’).

The aim of the new arrangements is to ensure that all urgent and priority matters are able to be dealt with safely by the Courts, whilst at the same time, ensuring appropriate social distancing is adhered to.

It is important to stress that the situation regarding COVID-19 is rapidly changing and the arrangements listed below are subject to change at short notice. It is expected that additional details clarifying the matters below, and updated protocols (for example, in relation to larger lists), will be disseminated shortly (as early as later today).

Registrar events

Divorce Lists

1. Where attendance is required, divorces will be conducted by telephone to the greatest extent possible, effective from Thursday, 19 March 2020 to the end of June 2020.

2. Joint applications – will be done by Registrars on the papers and parties are not required to attend Court. If a party has selected to attend at Q2(a) of the divorce application, they will be advised that attendance is not required.

3. Sole applications 
  • Court attendance is not required if there are no children of the marriage. Parties and lawyers should not attend Court in-person under any circumstance.
  • Court attendance is required (by the Act) if there are children under the age of 18 years. Attendance should be via telephone and parties and lawyers are requested not to attend Court in-person.
    • Applicants will be sent an email advising that they are to attend a virtual courtroom and will be provided an AAPT number to dial-in to the virtual courtroom. 
Communication to lawyers/parties

4. Where there are children under the age of 18 years, and Court attendance is required for sole applications, registry staff will send emails to lawyers and applicants advising that attendance should be via telephone.

5. If the applicant is seeking orders for dispensation of service, these will dealt with by telephone.

Conduct of divorce lists

6. Divorce lists will be staggered into three time slots per day. Each time slot will have a maximum of 10-12 matters listed. The list will be split between two Registrars, facilitating staggering and telephone attendances.

7. Matters will be listed to the end of June 2020, allowing for increasing adjournment slots in July and August.

FCoA Directions List

8. All Family Court Registrar Directions Lists will be conducted by telephone where limited to a procedural issue.

9. Where a matter is contested, written submissions are to be filed at the direction of Registrar with orders to be made in chambers.

10. There will be no requirement to attend Court in-person, attendance will be via telephone.

Conferences (FCoA & FCC)

11. All Case Assessment Conferences and Conciliation Conferences will be conducted via telephone.

12. Practitioners and parties will be sent dial-in details with relevant AAPT account numbers.

13. Practitioners and parties are still required to provide/exchange the usual documents in advance of the Conciliation Conference (where ordered by the Judge) and proposed orders to both the Court and to the other party prior to the conference.

14. There will be no requirement to attend Court in-person.

Circuits

15. Where possible, Registrars will utilise video/telephone alternatives for events that would otherwise be conducted on circuits. We are in the process of reviewing all circuit arrangements and the Courts will provide further information shortly.

Discrete Property Lists, PPP500 Lists and Contravention Lists

16. Discrete Property Lists and PPP500 Lists will be conducted via telephone rather than in-person.

17. There will be no requirement to attend Court in-person, attendance will be via telephone.

18. All associated Conferences are to be conducted via telephone where possible.

FCoA Senior Registrar Lists

19. Parties and practitioners should attend by telephone if possible.

20. The parties and practitioners are still required to provide a short case outline, identifying the evidence they wish to rely upon together with a minute of proposed orders.

Documents for telephone hearings

21. Any documents that would usually be handed up on the day of an in-person hearing or conference, must now be provided by the parties by email to the Registry at least one business day in advance of the hearing or conference by telephone.

CDS events

Child Dispute Conferences

1. All Child Dispute Conferences (CDCs) will be conducted by telephone.

2. Parties will be sent dial-in details with relevant AAPT account numbers or, alternatively, will be asked to provide their contact details.

3. There will be no requirement to attend Court in-person.

Child Inclusive Conferences

4. Existing orders for Child Inclusive Conferences (CICs) will, subject to the views of the Judge, be serviced as CDCs. We are actively discussing with Judges moving towards more CDCs (which can be done via telephone) rather than CICs for as many matters as possible, as quickly as possible.

5. Where a necessary CIC has been ordered, it will be conducted consistent with social distancing principles as far as possible. 

Child Responsive Program (FCoA)

6. Meetings with the adult parties (MIA) will be conducted by telephone.

7. Necessary meetings with children (MCF) will proceed as arranged at the Registry.

Family reports

8. Family report interviews scheduled will proceed as arranged, unless the parties are advised otherwise by CDS but will be conducted consistent with social distancing principles as far as possible. 

Circuits

9. Where possible, Family Consultants will utilise telephone alternatives for CDCs that would otherwise be conducted on circuits. We are in the process of reviewing all circuit arrangements and the Courts will provide further information shortly. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Family Court puts in place COVID-19 arrangements

The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia have today with immediate effect put in place new rules to deal with the challenge of COVID-19. One of the key rules is to do away with the cattle crush that often happens on busy duty days, by listing only urgent matters, using electronic appearances as much as possible, and limiting the number of people in the court room.

Here is the statement issued by the courts today:

The health and safety of the community, Judges and staff is the Courts’ priority. Therefore, due to the escalating situation regarding the coronavirus, and in anticipation of further measures likely to be announced by Government, some urgent operational arrangements will be put in place effective immediately regarding the listing of court work across the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court. The aim of the new arrangements is to ensure that all urgent and priority matters are able to be dealt with safely by the courts, whilst at the same time, ensuring appropriate social distancing is adhered to.
Judges have been advised by the Chief Justice/Chief Judge of new arrangements, as follows:

All family law work

List arrangements and capping of number of people in each courtroom

Any trials or hearings that can be done by telephone should be.
Any high volume lists required to be conducted in person need to be staggered to reduce the number of people in attendance in the Registry, and the number of people to attend a courtroom at any one time (other than the judge and their support staff) is limited to 8 people (‘8 person in-court cap’). Any additional people involved in matters must remain outside the courtroom, or can appear by telephone if appropriate. All matters that can be appropriately conducted by telephone should proceed in that way.

Judge work – family law

  1. Summer Campaign callovers

    The balance of the Sydney Federal Circuit Court callovers are to be vacated immediately and will be adjourned to a date to be fixed. Notifications have already been sent to the parties and practitioners for the matters that were listed today. Notifications will be sent to parties and practitioners today for matters listed for the rest of the week. The situation will be assessed on a regular basis, and the parties will be notified of new callover dates when that becomes possible.
    The callovers in the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane, Parramatta and Adelaide will be postponed until an appropriate time. The situation will be monitored regularly and judges, local registry staff and parties will be contacted shortly.
  2. Duty lists

    Duty lists should be reduced to only urgent or priority matters. Assessing which matters should remain listed is a matter for each Judge based on the nature of the cases in question.
    In terms of structuring the list, duty lists should be staggered throughout the day to be consistent with social distancing principles, and not exceeding the 8 person in-court cap.
  3. Trials and other contested hearings

    Due to the nature of family law work, including child related and family violence aspects, urgent and priority hearings should remain listed, and be conducted in the safest manner possible. It may be that Judges consider conducting parts of the case by telephone where appropriate.
    Non-urgent property only matters may be adjourned for an appropriate period of time, and non-urgent parenting matters will be given similar consideration. Again these matters are at the discretion of the Judge.
    Any trials or hearings that can conducted by telephone or videoconference should take place in that way.
  4. Circuits

    Circuits for the next two months are in the process of being reviewed and it may be that some matters will be adjourned or conducted by telephone. Further communications regarding circuits will be provided shortly.
  5. Appeals

    At this stage, appeals are likely to be conducted only by videoconference or telephone where possible to reduce travel. Parties and practitioners will be contacted in the near future regarding upcoming appeal listings.

Official events and gatherings

All court based events, or attendances of the judiciary or court representatives at external events, will be cancelled or postponed, or conducted by telephone or videoconference if possible.

Registrar work and CDS work

A similar approach will be taken in respect of Registrar court lists and other work, and CDS work. Urgent plans are currently being developed and communications will be provided shortly.
It is also noted that Registrar migration lists have been suspended until July 2020 by the Federal Court, effective immediately.

Enquiries for parties or the profession

General enquires about the above matters should be directed, at first instance, to Michael Raine, via michael.raine@familycourt.gov.au or (08) 8219 1641.
Urgent enquiries should be directed to Chambers in the usual way.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Australia rated 19th for women's rights in business and the law- World Bank

With all the doom and gloom that comes with relationship breakdown, it is refreshing to do a reality check- and compare how women are treated under the law in Australia, compared to overseas.

Every two years the World Bank carries out a survey on Women, Business and the Law. I have been privileged to take part in the survey now three times, and am recognised by the World Bank as a local expert

With all the challenges that exist under the law to ensure that men and women are equal, overall, Australia is doing well internationally. The World Bank has rated Australia equal 19th (with Hungary) after:

  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Iceland
  • Latvia
  • Luxembourg
  • Sweden
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Spain 
  •  UK
The worst performing country was West Bank and Gaza on 26.3, just behind Yemen on 26.9, Sudan on 29.4 and Iran on 31.3. The USA by comparison rated 91.3, along with Albania, Cyprus and Taiwan.

Out of 100, Australia rates 96.9. Australia rates 100 for:
  • mobility
  • workplace
  • pay
  • marriage
  • parenthood
  • entrepreneurship
  • assets.

Australia rates 75 for pension.

It is shocking that:

Australia is one of the countries where there can be different retirement ages between men and women.