Event Report: FCFCOA Court Merger Webinar

Date: 15 September 2021 Time: 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM AEST Venue: YouTube Live via ZOOM Speakers: Lisa O'Neill, Anna Parker, Janet Carmichael & Anne-Marie Rice


A recording is available to view until the end of 2021: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHKGj5ERjQw


Summary:


In this webinar, speakers Lisa O’Neill, Anna Parker, Janet Carmichael and Anne-Marie Rice spoke to the new Court structure and case management pathways, the role of the Lighthouse Project in the new Court alongside risk screening and assessment mechanisms, and the role of the Court’s Children Services from the 1st of September 2021.

The new Court structure and case management pathways

Anna Parker spoke to the Central Practice Direction – Family Law Case Management. It applies in substantive applications and is consistent across both Divisions. It provides guidance to parties and lawyers about what they can expect from the Court and what the Court will expect from them. The purpose of the Central Practice Direction is to outline Core Principles, and set out a consistent national case management system that: reduces costs and acrimony, ensures safety of families and children and achieves the overarching purpose.


The overarching purpose of family law practice and procedure (ss 67, 68 and 190, 191) is to facilitate the just resolution of disputes: (a) according to law; and (b) as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible.


Per s 5, the objects are:

  1. to ensure that justice is delivered by federal courts effectively and efficiently;

  2. to provide for just outcomes, in family law or child support proceedings;

  3. to provide a framework to facilitate cooperation between Division 1 and Division 2 with the aim of ensuring common rules of court and forms, practices and procedures, and approaches to case management.

A Notice to Court users was given that: a) compliance with statutory obligations will be expected and enforced,

b) parties and lawyers will be expected to act co-operatively where safe, not to conduct cases aggressively and to focus on the issues genuinely in dispute, and

c) there will be costs and other consequences (including for lawyers) for non-compliance with obligations, orders, Rules and practice directions.


Anna Parker also examined the new case management pathway and its aim to have 90% of cases resolved within 12 months of filing. The audience was stepped through the case management pathway – Pre-action Procedures, Triage and Assessment, the First Court Event, an Interim Hearing, Dispute Resolution, a Compliance & Readiness Hearing and finally, a Final Hearing.

Dispute Resolution Anne-Marie Rice answered Queries and Concerns about Dispute Resolution. She discussed s.60I Certificates and Certificates of Dispute Resolution and also clarified what orders for non-court based DR events look like, including mediation, FDR and arbitration, such as when they take place, how and what factors are considered. The involvement of children, Confidential Case Outline (Dispute Resolution) and other material and the awarding of a Certificate of Dispute Resolution were also topics of discussion.


The role of the Court’s Children Services from the 1st of September 2021

Janet Carmichael spoke to the CCS - Service Principles of being child-centred, prioritising safety, delivering best practice, operating respectfully and acting with professionalism and integrity. The role of the CCS is to help parents understand the needs of their children after separation, identify risk factors that impact children, identify family strengths and protective factors, provide assessments and advice to the Court as an expert witness, provide information about resources and support services and assist in the resolution of disputes.


The CCS workforce structure includes a Court Child Expert (CCE), who is an employee of the court and social worker or psychologist that undertakes duties as a family consultant and a family counsellor, and a Regulation 7 Family Consultant, who is a private practitioner undertaking CCS work on a fee for service basis.


The service types, including the relevant reports and their purposes were examined. A Child Impact Report is relevant to the undertaking of preliminary assessments early in proceedings by a family consultant. The undertaking of comprehensive assessments for final hearings by a family consultant involves the following reports: a Child Impact Addendum Report, Specific Issues Report and Family Report. A CCS family counsellor also assists registrars in the delivery of dispute resolution conferences and undertakes confidential assessment interviews as part of the Court’s Lighthouse Project.


Additionally, the role of the CCE in dispute resolution was outlined, where they act under their authorisation as a family counsellor (confidential) and bring their expertise about children’s needs to the DR process.


Evatt List

Lisa O'Neill discussed The Evatt List, which currently contains over 300 matters (almost 30 of which have settled within 6 months of filing). The Evatt List proactive case management focusses on early information gathering. With dedicated Evatt List Judges and tight time standards, the List intends to improve the litigant experience of the court process by implicating less trauma and higher safety, and enhance the Courts response and understanding of family violence and other risks which affect family law matters.


Feedback:

"Excellent! Knowledgeable, personable, & professional."

"Engaging presenters who gave a very expert, warm and helpful explanation of recent changes to the Family court system."

"I thought the webinar covered the topics and provided updated information extremely well"

"Worthwhile and informative"