About the Court

The Federal Circuit Court of Australia was established by the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999 (the Act) as an independent federal court under Chapter III of the Australian Constitution. Prior to 12 April 2013, under the Federal Magistrates Act 1999, the Court was known as the Federal Magistrates Court and its judicial officers as federal magistrates. The Court was established to handle less complex matters in the areas of family law and general federal law.

The Court is a federal court of record and a court of law and equity. It sits in all capital cities, selected major regional centres and circuits to a number of regional locations.

Objective

The objective of the Court is to provide a simple and more accessible alternative to litigation in the Family Court of Australia (Family Court) and the Federal Court of Australia (Federal Court) and to relieve the workload of the superior federal courts.

The provisions of the Act enable the Court to operate as informally as possible in the exercise of judicial power, use streamlined procedures and make use of a range of dispute resolution processes to resolve matters without judicial decisions.

Jurisdiction

The jurisdiction of the Court includes family law and child support and the following areas of general federal law: administrative law, admiralty law, bankruptcy, consumer law (formerly trade practices), copyright, human rights, industrial, migration and privacy. The Court shares these jurisdictions with the Family Court and the Federal Court. The provisions of the Act enable the Court to operate as informally as possible in the exercise of a range of dispute resolution processes to resolve matters without decisions.

Family law and child support

The Court exercises all aspects of jurisdiction in the Family Law Act 1975 with the exception of adoption and applications for nullity or validity of marriage. The Court has the same jurisdiction as the Family Court in relation to child support.

This includes:

  • applications for divorce
  • applications concerning spousal maintenance
  • property disputes (including de facto jurisdiction)
  • all parenting orders, including those providing for where a child lives, who a child spends time and communicates with, and maintenance or specific issues
  • enforcement of orders made by either the Federal Circuit Court or the Family Court
  • location and recovery orders as well as warrants for the apprehension or detention of a child, and
  • determination of parentage and recovery of child-bearing expenses.

Jurisdiction upon transfer from the Family Court

The Court also has jurisdiction to hear any matter within the jurisdiction of the Family Court which the Family Court transfers to the Federal Circuit Court.

General federal law

The Court deals with a wide range of matters, sharing jurisdiction with the Federal Court and, in some cases, state courts. The Court’s rules and procedures are simpler and less formal and aim to reduce the cost and number of court appearances.

The Court can hear and decide matters relating to administrative law, admiralty law, bankruptcy, consumer law (formerly trade practices), human rights, industrial, intellectual property, migration and privacy and any matter transferred from the Federal Court. Where the Court has jurisdiction in a matter, it also has jurisdiction to determine associated or inseverable claims which would otherwise not be within jurisdiction.

Following is more information about the Court’s jurisdiction in these various areas of general federal law.

Administrative

  • Matters under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1997.
  • Appeals from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal remitted from the Federal Court.

Admiralty

  • In personam actions (claims against a specific person or company) such as freight claims, damage claims and seafarers’ wages.
  • In rem actions remitted by the Federal Court and state supreme courts.

Bankruptcy

All civil claims and matters under the Bankruptcy Act 1966, except those requiring jury trials.

Consumer

The Court has jurisdiction with respect to claims under the following provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (formerly the Trade Practices Act 1974):

  • Section 46 (Misuse of Market Power)
  • Section IVB (Industry Codes)
  • Part XI (Application of the Australian Consumer Law as a law of the Commonwealth), and
  • Schedule 2 (Australian Consumer Law).

The Court can provide injunctive relief and award damages up to $750,000.

In relation to certain claims for $40,000 or less, litigants can elect to use the small claims procedure of the Court.

Copyright

Civil claims and matters under Parts V, VAA, IX and section 248J of the Copyright Act 1968, such as claims for injunctions and damages for breach of copyright.

Trade Marks – Trade Marks Act 1995

  • Appeals from decisions of the Registrar of Trade Marks: ss 35,56, 67, 83(2), 83A(8), 84A–84D and 104
  • Infringement actions ss 120–128 and under ss 129 and 130
  • Revocation of registration under: ss 88 and 89
  • Decision on whether a person has used a trade mark under s 7 Determining whether Trade Mark has become Generic: ss 24, 87 and 89 Amendment or Cancellation of Registration under ss 85 and 86 Application for an Order to Remove a Trade Mark Registration for Non Use: s 92(3)
  • Application for rectification of Register by order of court under s 181, and
  • Variation of rules governing use of certification trade mark under s 182.

Design – Designs Act 2003

  • Appeals from Decisions of the Registrar of Designs: ss 28(5), 67(4), 68(6), 50(6), 52(7) and 54(4)
  • Ability to make a determination of the entitled person during proceedings before the court under s 53
  • Infringement actions under ss 71–76
  • Applications for Relief from Unjustified Threats under ss 77–81
  • Application for Compulsory Licences under s 90–92
  • Revocation of Registration under s 93
  • For Crown use provisions, provide a determination of the term of use of a design under s 98
  • Application for a declaration by a court of any Crown use under s 101
  • Application for the cessation of Crown use of a design under s 102, and
  • Rectification of Register under s 120. D.

Human rights

Federal unlawful discrimination matters under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 relating to complaints under the:

  • Age Discrimination Act 2004
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

Industrial

The Federal Circuit Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Court for matters under the:

  • Fair Work Act 2009
  • Fair Work (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 2009, and
  • Workplace Relations Act 1996 (in so far as it continues to apply).

This jurisdiction is to be exercised by the Fair Work Division of the Court.

The Fair Work Act 2009 confers small claims jurisdiction on the Court for various matters if the compensation is not more than $20,000.

The Court also has jurisdiction in relation to certain matters under the Independent Contractors Act 2006.

Migration

Most first instance judicial reviews of visa-related decisions of the Migration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal. The Court does not have jurisdiction to undertake a merits review of these types of decisions.

Privacy

Enforcing determinations of the Privacy Commissioner and private sector adjudicators under the Privacy Act 1988.

Jurisdiction upon transfer from the Federal Court

The Court also has jurisdiction to hear any matter within the jurisdiction of the Federal Court which the Federal Court transfers to the Federal Circuit Court.

Changes to the Court’s jurisdiction

Following commencement of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Legislation Amendment Act 2012 on the 12 April 2013, the Federal Magistrates Court was renamed the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (Federal Circuit Court) and the titles of its judicial officers from Chief Federal Magistrate and federal magistrate to Chief Judge and judge respectively.

The jurisdiction, status and arrangements under which the Court operates did not change.

Consequential amendments were made to other Acts and Regulations to implement the name change by way of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments) Act 2013 and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Legislation (Consequential) Amendments Regulation 2013 (No 1).

The following is a list of renamed Acts and regulatory provisions:

Table 2.1: Renamed Acts and regulatory provisions

Previous

Currently

Federal Magistrates Act 1999

Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999

Federal Magistrates Court Rules 2001

Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001

Federal Magistrates Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2006

Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2006

Fee Regulations

Federal Court and Federal Magistrates Court Regulation 2012

Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court Regulation 2012

Family Law (Fees) Regulation 2012

No change

The Access to Justice (Federal Jurisdiction) Amendment Act 2012 amended all four federal courts enabling Acts to implement new model provisions concerning suppression orders and non publication orders and vexatious proceedings. Schedule 2 (suppression and non publication orders provisions) commenced on 12 December 2012. Schedule 3 (vexatious proceedings) commenced on 11 June 2013.

Schedule 2 of the Courts and Tribunals Legislation Amendment (Administration) Act 2013 commenced on 1 July 2013 and included amendments to the administrative structures and processes of the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court to facilitate the shared administration. The amendments do not affect the jurisdiction of either court. As from 1 July 2013 the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court are prescribed as a single agency for the purposes of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 with a single chief executive officer.

A number of Acts enlarged or impacted on the jurisdiction of the Court, including:

  • Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012
  • Australian Jobs Act 2013
  • Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) Act 2012
  • Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Amendment Act 2012
  • Fair Work Amendment Act 2013
  • Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Act 2012
  • Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012
  • Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012.
  • Migration Amendment (Reform of Employer Sanctions) Act 2013
  • Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visa) Act 2013
  • National Gambling Reform Act 2012
  • Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Amendment (Compliance Measures) Act 2013
  • Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act 2012
  • Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Act 2012
  • Road Safety Remuneration Act 2012
  • Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act 2012
  • Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011

Amendments to the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 (prior to 12 April 2013 the Federal Magistrates Court Rules 2001)

Federal Magistrates Court Legislation Amendment Rules 2013 (No 1)

These Rules included amongst other things, amendments which had the effect of renaming the Federal Magistrates Court Rules 2001 and the Federal Magistrates Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2006 as a consequence of the amendments to the name of the Court. As from 12 April 2013 these rules are now renamed as the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 and the Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2006.

Amendments to Fee Regulations

The 2012–13 Budget included announced increases to federal court fees which came into effect 1 January 2013.

Prior to 1 January 2013 the fee regulations for the Court were the Federal Magistrates Regulations 2000. From that date these Regulations were repealed and replaced by a single fee regulation for all family law proceedings and a single fee regulation for general federal law proceedings.

  • Family Law (Fees) Regulation 2012
  • Federal Court and Federal Magistrates Court Regulation 2012

As well as a general increase to existing fees, there were a number of new fees.

The changes also included the removal of the reduced fee payment introduced in November 2010 with the re-introduction of a full fee exemption for those persons falling within the exemption categories.

One new fee included in the Family Law (Fees) Regulation 2012 was a fee for the issue of a subpoena. The Government had indicated they intended that independent children’s lawyers (ICL) would be subject to the new subpoena fee as they did not fall within the exempted provisions. However as from 1 July 2013, ICL’s have been exempted from paying court fees in respect of the issuing of subpoenas and interim applications. These amendments were made by way of the Family Law Amendment (Fees) Regulation 2013.

On 27 February 2013, the Senate referred the matter of the impact of federal court fee increases since 2010 on access to justice in Australia to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee for inquiry. The Committee delivered its report on 17 June 2013.

As a result of these amendments, on 12 April 2013, included in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Legislation (Consequential Amendments) Regulation 2013 (No 1), the Regulations prescribing general federal law fees in respect of proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court (and the Federal Court) were renamed the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court Regulations 2012.

The renamed regulations are as follows:

Table 2.2: Renamed regulations for the Federal Circuit Court

 

Previous

From 12 April 2013

General Federal Law

Federal Court and Federal Magistrates Court Regulation 2012

Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court Regulation 2012

Family Law

Family Law (Fees) Regulation 2012

No change

Most items included in the Court’s fee regulations are the subject of biennial increases to adjust for inflation.

Organisational structure

Figure 2.1: Federal Circuit Court organisational structure

Figure 2.1: Federal Circuit Court organisational structure

Judicial officers

Judges are appointed by the Governor-General by commission as justices in accordance with Chapter III of the Australian Constitution. A judge is appointed for a term expiring when they reach the age of 70 years.

Section 8 of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999 provides that the Court consists of a Chief Judge and such other judges as appointed. At 30 June 2013, 64 judges held appointment to the Court (including the Chief Judge). More detail on judicial officers can be found at Appendix B.

Note: The remuneration arrangements for all judicial officers and the Acting Chief Executive Officer are governed by enforceable determinations of the Remuneration Tribunal. Further details including relevant determinations are available at www.remtribunal.gov.au

Details of the judges follow in the table below:

Table 2.3: Federal Circuit Court Judges, 30 June 2013

Chief Judge

Location

Date of appointment

John Pascoe AO CVO

Sydney

14 July 2004

 

Judge

Location

Date of appointment

Warren Donald

Parramatta

13 June 2000

Christine Mead

Adelaide

13 June 2000

Michael Baumann

Brisbane

19 June 2000

Jim Brewster

Canberra

19 June 2000

Norah Hartnett

Melbourne

19 June 2000

Stephen Scarlett

Sydney

19 June 2000

John Coker

Townsville

26 June 2000

Rolf Driver

Sydney

31 July 2000

Kenneth Raphael

Sydney

31 July 2000

Stuart Roberts

Launceston

4 December 2000

Maurice Phipps

Melbourne

18 December 2000

Michael Connolly

Melbourne

4 June 2001

Stewart Brown

Adelaide

5 November 2001

Shenagh Barnes

Sydney

5 November 2001

Giles Coakes

Newcastle

12 January 2004

Stuart Lindsay

Adelaide

19 January 2004

Michael Jarrett

Brisbane

2 February 2004

Sylvia Emmett

Sydney

5 July 2004

Grant Riethmuller

Melbourne

19 July 2004

Michael Lloyd-Jones

Sydney

26 July 2004

Daniel O’Dwyer

Melbourne

2 August 2004

Nick Nicholls

Sydney

23 August 2004

Robyn Sexton

Sydney

27 September 2004

Kevin Lapthorn

Newcastle

29 August 2005

Louise Henderson

Parramatta

28 November 2005

Kate Hughes

Melbourne

30 January 2006

Heather Riley

Melbourne

3 July 2006

Philip Burchardt

Melbourne

10 July 2006

John O’Sullivan

Melbourne

10 July 2006

David Halligan

Parramatta

31 July 2006

Toni Lucev

Perth

14 August 2006

Frank Turner

Melbourne

3 October 2006

Robert Cameron

Sydney

3 October 2006

Tom Altobelli

Sydney

13 November 2006

Michael Burnett

Brisbane

24 November 2006

Stephen Coates

Brisbane

27 November 2006

Leanne Spelleken

Brisbane

11 December 2006

Charlotte Kelly

Adelaide

12 March 2007

Janet Terry

Newcastle

10 April 2007

Denys Simpson

Adelaide

12 June 2007

Warwick Neville

Canberra

2 July 2007

Dale Kemp

Sydney

4 July 2007

Paul Howard

Brisbane

9 July 2007

Susan Purdon-Sully

Brisbane

15 October 2007

Margaret Cassidy

Brisbane

5 November 2007

Evelyn Bender

Melbourne

15 September 2008

Anne Demack

Brisbane

22 September 2008

Judith Walker

Sydney

22 September 2008

Terry McGuire

Melbourne

6 October 2008

David Dunkley

Sydney

13 October 2008

Barbara Baker

Hobart

27 October 2008

Geoffrey Monahan

Melbourne

3 November 2008

Peter Cole

Adelaide

24 November 2008

Josephine Willis

Cairns

27 January 2009

Dominica Whelan

Melbourne

24 May 2010

Joseph Harman

Parramatta

7 June 2010

Leanne Turner

Brisbane

7 June 2010

Garry Foster

Newcastle

18 April 2011

Matthew Myers

Newcastle

23 January 2012

Ron Curtain

Melbourne

23 January 2012

Alexandra Harland

Darwin

15 April 2013

Judith Small

Melbourne

15 April 2013

Judge Suzanne Jones

Melbourne

3 June 2013

Appointments and retirements

There were three appointments, one retirement and a resigned commission during the 2012–13 reporting period.

  • Judge Alexandra Harland was appointed on 15 April 2013
  • Judge Judith Small was appointed on 15 April 2013
  • Judge Suzanne Jones was appointed on 3 June 2013
  • Judge Matthew Smith retired on 31 January 2013, and
  • Judge John Walters resigned commission to take up appointment in the Family Court of Western Australia on 6 December 2012.

Staff of the Court

Court staff are employed under the Public Service Act 1999. At 30 June 2013, the Court had 166 employees covered by the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia Enterprise Agreement 2011–2014 and Australian Workplace Agreements (excluding judicial officers, the Acting Chief Executive Officer and casual employees). This was a 0.6 per cent increase compared with 165 employees at 30 June 2012. More details on staffing levels can be found at Appendix B.

Most staff are employed in the judges chambers. Each judge is supported by two employees, who undertake the administrative responsibilities associated with the day-to-day management of chambers and court, including duties required in the courtroom.