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 nine appointments in 2015–16. The Court welcomed Judges Young, Wilson, Middleton, Heffernan, Dowdy, Boyle, Williams, McNab and Obradovic.

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.

The Court also has civil jurisdiction with respect to claims under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009.

There is provision in certain proceedings for a litigant to elect that an application for compensation be dealt with as a small claims proceeding.

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 2015–16

The following Acts impacted on the jurisdiction of the Court.

Courts Administration Legislation Amendment Act 2016

This Act amends the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976, Family Law Act 1975 and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999 to merge the governance structures of these courts with shared corporate services being managed by the Federal Court from 1 July 2016. The merger preserves the responsibilities of heads of jurisdiction with respect to the administrative affairs of their respective courts, excluding corporate services. Each court will have its own Chief Executive Officer (which will be merged with the role of Principal Registrar) but the merged roles will be deferred for the Family Court until 1 January 2018.

Health Legislation Amendment (eHealth) Act 2015

Amends, inter alia, the Healthcare Identifiers Act 2010 to make the Federal Circuit Court a relevant court in relation to matters that arises because of the exercise of powers under the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Act 2014, and make amendments to the Court's jurisdiction under the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act 2012. The relevant provisions commenced on 27 November 2015.

Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Legislation Amendment Act 2015

Amends the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 to invest the Federal Circuit Court with the power to enforce certain orders made by the Treasurer, and makes the Federal Circuit Court a relevant court for the purposes of Part 4 of the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Act 2014. It commenced on 1 December 2015.

Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Reform) Act 2015

Amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (Cth) to give the Federal Circuit Court civil penalty jurisdiction in relation to matters arising. Relevant provisions commenced on 31 December 2015.

Narcotic Drugs Amendment Act 2016

An Act to provide a legislative framework that will enable cannabis cultivation in Australia and provide Australian patients in need with access to medicinal cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The Act will amend the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 to make the Federal Circuit Court a relevant court in relation to a matter that arises because of the exercise of powers under the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Act 2014.

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

Federal Circuit Court Amendment (Costs and Other Measures) Rules 2016

Making amendments to the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 in relation to costs and other miscellaneous amendments commenced 21 May 2016.

Courts Administration (Consequential Amendments) Regulation 2016

Making consequential amendments as a result of the Courts Administration Legislation Amendment Act 2016 commenced 11 May 2016.

Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2016

To replace the Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2006 commenced 1 April 2016.

Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Repeal Rules 2016

To repeal the Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2006 (Cth) commenced at the same time as the Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2016 commenced.

Federal Circuit Court (Commonwealth Tenancy Disputes) Amendment Instrument 2016

Amends the Federal Circuit Court (Commonwealth Tenancy Disputes) Instrument 2015 (Cth), in relation to tenancy disputes involving land in a non-self-governing Territory in which a Commonwealth officer or employee (other than a member of the Defence Force) is the lessee (other than a sublessee), the licensee (other than a sub licensee) or a grantee of a right or permission to possess, occupy or use land owned by the Commonwealth commenced 26 February 2016.

Amendments to Fee Regulations

There are two fee regulations, one which applies to family law proceedings and one for general federal law proceedings.

  • Family Law (Fees) Regulation 2012, and
  • Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court Regulation 2012.

These is provision in these Regulations for a biennial increase and there was such an increase which took effect from 1 July 2016.

The following are the amendments made during the year which impacted on the fee regulations.

Federal Courts Legislation Amendment (Fees) Regulation 2015

Amends the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court Regulation 2012 and the Family Law (Fees) Regulation 2012 in relation to fees and commenced 1 July 2015.

Note Schedule 2 amendments in relation to the Family Law (Fees) Regulation 2012 fees were disallowed by the Senate on 25 June 2015.

Family Law (Fees) Amendment (2015 Measures No. 1) Regulation 2015

Reintroduce family law fee increases under the Federal Courts Legislation Amendment (Fees) Regulation 2015 (Cth) that were disallowed by the Senate on 25 June 2015. The Senate disallowed the instrument on 11 August 2015.

Organisational structure

Figure 2.1: Federal Circuit Court organisational structure

Image of the Federal Circuit Court Organisation Chart
 

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 2016, 65 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 2016
Chief Judge Location Date of appointment
John Pascoe AC 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
Maurice Phipps Melbourne 18 December 2000
Stewart Brown Adelaide 5 November 2001
Shenagh Barnes Sydney 5 November 2001
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
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
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 Rockhampton 22 September 2008
Terry McGuire Launceston 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
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
Tony Young Darwin 31 July 2015
Joshua Wilson Melbourne 2 November 2015
Steven Middleton Newcastle 9 November 2015
Timothy Heffernan Adelaide 23 November 2015
Philip Dowdy Sydney 7 December 2015
Elizabeth Boyle Sydney 29 February 2016
Jillian Williams Melbourne 29 February 2016
Alister McNab Melbourne 18 May 2016
Brana Obradovic Parramatta 30 May 2016

Appointments and retirements, 2015–16

There were nine appointments and two retirements during the 2015–16 reporting period.

Appointments

  • Judge Tony Young was appointed on 31 July 2015
  • Judge Joshua Douglas Wilson was appointed on 2 November 2015
  • Judge Steven Middleton was appointed on 9 November 2015
  • Judge Timothy Heffernan was appointed on 23 November 2015
  • Judge Philip Dowdy was appointed on 7 December 2015
  • Judge Elizabeth Boyle was appointed on 29 February 2016
  • Judge Jillian Williams was appointed on 29 February 2016
  • Judge Alister McNab was appointed on 18 May 2016, and
  • Judge Brana Obradovic was appointed on 30 May 2016.

Retirements

  • Judge Halligan retired on 1 November 2015, and
  • Judge Roberts retired on 19 June 2015.

Other changes during 2015–16

  • Judge Demack relocated from Brisbane to Rockhampton on 7 March 2016, and
  • Judge McGuire relocated from Melbourne to Launceston on 19 June 2016.

Queen's Birthday Honours List

Image of Chief Judge John Pascoe AC CVO

Chief Judge Pascoe appointed Companion in the Order of Australia (AC)

Chief Judge Pascoe was appointed Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia. This honour was awarded for eminent service to the law and to the judiciary, support for improved access to the justice system for Indigenous peoples, to legal administration and higher education, and advocacy for the prevention of international trafficking of children.

Vale

Image of Judge Dominica Whelan

Judge Dominica Whelan

It was with great sadness that the Court received the news of the passing of Judge Dominica Whelan on 17 February 2016.

Judge Whelan was appointed to the Court's Melbourne registry in May 2010, after having served as a Commissioner of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and Fair Work Australia for approximately 15 years.

In her earlier career, Judge Whelan was an Industrial Research Officer with the Australian Public Service Association, solicitor with the Fitzroy Legal Service, Tutor in Family Law and Constitutional Law at Monash University, and Associate to the Honourable Elizabeth Evatt, a former Chief Justice of the Family Court.

Judge Whelan was a valued colleague and will be greatly missed. She had a life-long passion for the law and was well known for the compassionate way she conducted her role as a judicial officer.