URGENT NEW ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE LISTING OF MATTERS IN THE FAMILY COURT OF AUSTRALIA AND FEDERAL CIRCUIT COURT OF AUSTRALIA (COVID-19)

10AM 18/3/20

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 and general federal law (GFL) 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.

Judge work – General federal law (GFL)

Although the volume of matters is less than in family law, the same principles as noted above apply in respect of GFL matters. This includes the staggering of multiple listings and the 8 person in-court cap.

For migration matters, any matter currently listed which can be conducted appropriately by telephone or videoconference should proceed. If the matter requires a hearing in person, it should be postponed subject to the urgency of the case (e.g. detention matters).

In regard to other GFL matters, if the matter can proceed safely in person, and subject to the 8 person in-court cap, the matter may proceed at the judge’s discretion.

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.

Regards,

The Hon. Justice William Alstergren
Chief Justice
Family Court of Australia
Chief Judge
Federal Circuit Court of Australia
03 86004355

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Written by The Legal Eagle