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

There were four appointments in 2014–15. The Court welcomed Judges Alexander Street, Salvatore Vasta, Justin Smith and Ian Newbrun.

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), human rights, industrial, intellectual property, migration and privacy. The Court shares these jurisdictions with the Family Court (in respect of family law and child support) and the Federal Court (in respect of general federal law). 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 1977.
  • Judicial review of 'child support first reviews' under section 44AAA of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975 (provided that the decision does not involve a presidential member.
  • 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.

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.

Intellectual property (including copyright, trade mark and design)

Copyright – Copyright Act 1968

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.

Migration

Most first instance judicial reviews of visa-related decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA). 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 during 2014–15

The following Acts impacted on the jurisdiction of the Court.

Biosecurity Act 2015

Received Royal Assent on 16 June 2015. The substantive provisions do not commence until a day to be fixed by Proclamation (or 12 months after Assent). The Federal Circuit Court is a relevant court in relation to provisions for costs, compensation, monitoring powers under Part 2 of the Regulatory Powers Act, accepting and enforcing undertakings under 1 Part 6 of the Regulatory Powers Act, and Civil penalty orders.

Civil Law and Justice Legislation Amendment Act 2015

The Act received Royal Assent on 17 August 2015. The substantive provisions commence the day after royal assent. This Act includes amendments to the Court Security Act 2013 to provide for the disposal of unclaimed items seized by or given upon request to court security officers and to clarify the processes by which court security orders can be varied and revoked. This Act also amended the Family Law Act 1975 to clarify the appeal rights available for court security orders and to amend section 121 to explicitly permit the provision of certain information to welfare authorities.

Enhancing Online Safety of Children Act 2015

The substantive provisions took effect on 1 July 2015. The Act creates a new independent statutory officer to administer a complaints system for cyber-bullying material targeted at an Australian child. The Act confers certain civil penalty and injunctive powers on the Court.

Federal Courts Legislation Amendment Act 2015

The substantive provisions of this Act commenced on 26 February 2015 and include provisions to confer jurisdiction on the Court to hear and determine certain types of Commonwealth tenancy disputes. In addition the Federal Circuit Court (Commonwealth Tenancy Disputes) Instrument 2015 makes provision for the Court to apply, with modifications, applicable NSW law when determining Commonwealth tenancy disputes that involve land within NSW.

Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Act 2015

The amendments in Schedule 3 commence on 25 August 2015 and from that date, the Court will have jurisdiction to hear infringement proceedings under the Plant Breeder's Rights Act 1994.

Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Powers) Act 2015

This Act received Royal Assent on 30 June 2015 and the substantive provisions commence on 28 July 2015. Some provisions confer jurisdiction in a very limited range of circumstances on the Federal Circuit Court and the Federal Court to hear applications about the disclosure of material.

Public Governance Performance and Accountability (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Act 2014

The substantive provisions of this Act commenced on 1 July 2014 and included amendments to the Annual Reporting provisions of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999.

Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Act 2014

The substantive provisions of this Act commenced on 1 October 2014 and includes provisions which create a framework for the use of civil penalties to enforce civil penalty provisions. The Court is a relevant court for the purposes of exercising powers in relation to the contravention of a civil penalty provision, if an Act provides that the court is a relevant court in relation to the civil penalty provision.

Tribunals Amalgamation Act 2015

This Act provided the legislative framework for the amalgamation of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), the Migration Review Tribunal (MRT), the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) and the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT). The new amalgamated AAT commenced on 1 July 2015. Generally the Act preserves existing policies and the scope of each juridical review. However in respect of the judicial review pathways from decisions in respect of 'child support first review' a direct application for judicial review can be made to the Federal Circuit Court (provided that the decision does not involve a presidential member) or to the Federal Court, and appeals from the Federal Circuit Court will go to the Federal Court.

Amendments to the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 and Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2006

Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Amendment (Examination Summons and Other Measures) Rules 2014

The commencement date was 29 November 2014.

These amendment rules included the following amendments to the Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2006:

  • amendments to rules 6.12 and 6.17 to explicitly provide that a Registrar may exercise a power to discharge an examination summons (see Travaglini v Raccuia [2007] FMCA 777)
  • amendments to rule 6.13 to facilitate the staged implementation of an electronic court file. The amendment replicates, in an electronic environment, the requirements for an affidavit supporting an application for the issue of a summons for the examination of an examinable person under Section 81 of the Bankruptcy Act 1966, being filed in a sealed envelope
  • an amendment to Form 6 to remove reference to the Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia with the new title 'Australian Financial Security Authority', and
  • the inclusion of subsection 55(3B) of the Bankruptcy Act 1966 to the list powers in Schedule 2 that may be exercised by a Registrar (being a power to direct an Official Receiver to accept or reject a debtor's petition).

Federal Circuit Court Amendment (2014 Measures No. 1) Rules 2014

PART 1 – Amendments commenced 23 October 2014

These amendments included a number of miscellaneous amendments as well as:

  • amendments to the family report rules to make it explicit that the Court can make orders allowing the disclosure of family reports to appropriate bodies in the child protection system and to legal aid bodies. Subrule 23.01A(5) implements this by permitting the Court (by order or otherwise) to give a copy of the report to any of the following (in addition to a party, a lawyer or an independent children's lawyer): a children's court; a prescribed welfare authority; a Legal Aid Commission; the convenor of any legal dispute resolution conference. These amendments are consistent with recommendations contained in a report by Professor Richard Chisholm AM dated March 2014 – The Sharing of Experts Reports between the Child Protection System and the Family Law System. In particular recommendations 6 and 7 which recommends amendment to court rules to make it explicit that family courts can make orders allowing the disclosure of reports to appropriate bodies in the child protection system and to legal aid bodies
  • three new subrules have been added to rule 44. 15 in respect of cost when an applicant files a notice of discontinuance of an application for a show cause in migration proceedings, and
  • increasing the rates of costs in Schedule 1 to give effect to recommendations made in the Sixth Report of the Joint Costs Advisory Committee.

PART 2 – Amendments commenced 12 January 2015

New Part 22A – which included in Division 1 new rules requiring a person who files an application or response seeking parenting orders, to file a new form of Notice of Risk. The rules from that date provide this form is prescribed when allegations of the purposes of subsections 67Z(2) or 67ZBA(2) of the Family Law Act 1975 are raised. The Notice of Risk is also intended to be the method by which the Court fulfils its obligations under paragraph 69ZQ(1)(aa) of the Family Law Act 1975. The new form of Notice of Risk is prescribed in Schedule 2.

Other regulations impacting on jurisdiction

Federal Circuit Court (Commonwealth Tenancy Disputes) Instrument 2015

This instrument which commenced on 6 March 2015 makes provision for the Federal Circuit Court to apply, with modifications, applicable NSW law when determining Commonwealth tenancy disputes that involve land within NSW.

Federal Courts Legislation Amendment (Fees) Regulation 2015

This instrument amended the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court Regulation 2012 and the Family Law (Fees) Regulation 2012 in relation to fees payable in the courts after 1 July 2015.

The Regulation amended the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court Regulation 2012 to:

  • exclude 'public authorities' from having to pay fees applicable to a 'corporation' and instead provide that they pay the lower fees applicable 'in any other case' when filing all matters in the courts other than bankruptcy matters
  • remove the 'publicly listed company' fee category, and instead provide that such companies pay the lower fees applicable to a 'corporation' when filing all matters in the courts other than bankruptcy matters, and
  • increase all fee categories (as amended above) by 10 per cent, except for those fees not subject to a biennial fee increase.

The Regulation also amended the Family Law (Fees) Regulation 2012 to:

  • increase the full divorce fee in the Federal Circuit Court from $845 to $1,195
  • increase the fees for consent orders from $155 to $235 and for issuing subpoenas from $55 to $120
  • increase all other existing family law fee categories (by an average of 10 per cent) except for the reduced divorce fee, and
  • establish a new fee category for the filing of amended applications ($120).

However on 25 June 2015 the Senate passed a resolution disallowing the amendments to Schedule 2 of these amendment regulations and consequently there was no increase to the family law fees.

Tribunals Legislation Amendment (Amalgamation) Regulation 2015

The instrument makes minor and technical amendments to 11 legislative instruments in order to support the amalgamation of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal, and the Social Security Appeals Tribunal on 1 July 2015.

The Regulation makes three minor amendments to the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court Regulation 2012 in order to preserve an existing child support fee exemption policy and reflect renaming of a Division.

Organisational structure

Figure 2.1: Federal Circuit Court organisational structure

This figure shows the organisational structure of the Federal Circuit Court at 30 June 2015.

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 2015, 61 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 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 2.1: Federal Circuit Court Judges, 30 June 2015

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
Stuart Roberts Launceston 4 December 2000
Maurice Phipps Melbourne 18 December 2000
Stewart Brown Adelaide 5 November 2001
Shenagh Barnes Sydney 5 November 2001
Giles Coakes Newcastle 12 January 2004
Michael Jarrett Brisbane 2 February 2004
Sylvia Emmett Sydney 5 July 2004
Grant Riethmuller Melbourne 19 July 2004
Nick Nicholls Sydney 23 August 2004
Robyn Sexton Sydney 27 September 2004
Kevin Lapthorn Brisbane 29 August 2005
Louise Henderson Sydney 28 November 2005
Kate Hughes Canberra 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
Robert Cameron Sydney 3 October 2006
Tom Altobelli Sydney 13 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
Terry McGuire Melbourne 6 October 2008
David Dunkley Parramatta 13 October 2008
Barbara Baker Hobart 27 October 2008
Geoffrey Monahan Sydney 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
Matthew Myers Newcastle 23 January 2012
Ron Curtain Melbourne 23 January 2012
Alexandra Harland Melbourne 15 April 2013
Judith Small Melbourne 15 April 2013
Suzanne Jones Melbourne 3 June 2013
Nicholas Manousaridis Sydney 1 July 2013
Joanne Stewart Melbourne 2 September 2013
Alexander Street Sydney 1 January 2015
Salvatore Vasta Brisbane 1 January 2015
Justin Smith Sydney 27 January 2015
Ian Newbrun Parramatta 4 February 2015

Appointments and retirements, 2014–15

There were four appointments and nine retirements during the 2014–15 reporting period.

Appointments

  • Judge Alexander Street SC was appointed on 1 January 2015
  • Judge Salvatore Vasta was appointed on 1 January 2015
  • Judge Justin Smith SC was appointed on 27 January 2015, and
  • Judge Ian Newbrun was appointed on 4 February 2015.

Retirements

  • Judge Kenneth Raphael retired on 1 July 2014
  • Judge Stuart Lindsay retired on 19 September 2014
  • Judge Michael Burnett retired on 31 October 2014 to take up a position with the District Court of Queensland
  • Judge Michael Connolly retired on 24 January 2015
  • Judge Daniel O'Dwyer retired on 2 February 2015
  • Judge Judith Walker PSM retired on 3 February 2015
  • Judge Frank Turner retired on 23 June 2015
  • Judge Lloyd-Jones retired on 21 June 2015, and
  • Judge Giles Coakes retired on 30 June 2015.

Other changes during 2014–15

  • Judge Harland relocated from Darwin to Melbourne on 2 March 2015.

Queen's Birthday Honours List

Image of Judge Scarlett RFD OAM.
Judge Scarlett
RFD OAM

Medal of the Order of Australia

His Honour Judge Scarlett RFD OAM, was recognised for service to the judiciary, to the law, and to professional organisations, in the 2015 Queen's Birthday Honours List.

His Honour has been a judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia since 2000. Prior to that he was Senior Children's Magistrate, Children's Court of New South Wales from 1995–2000 and Magistrate for the Local Court of New South Wales from 1988–1995.

His Honour is an Honorary Judicial Member of the Law Society of New South Wales and presenter of the Continuing Legal Education Program. He was a Member of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Council of New South Wales from 1998–2001 and is a former Chairman of the Serious Young Offenders Review Panel.