This section reports on aspects of the Federal Circuit Court’s (FCC) corporate governance arrangements..
The legal framework for the Court’s corporate governance practices is set out in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999, the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and the Public Service Act 1999.
Under the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999, the Chief Judge is responsible for ensuring the orderly and expeditious discharge of the business of the FCC and management of the administrative affairs of the Court. In the latter role, the Chief Judge is assisted by the Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar.
As of 1 July 2016, the Court ceased to be an entity for the purposes of Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and the Public Service Act 1999. The budget and staff of the Court sit within the Federal Court of Australia, with that Court’s Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar (Federal Court CEO) being the relevant accountable officer under those acts.
Responsibilities for the Court’s budget and staff have been delegated to the Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar of the Federal Circuit Court pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Court CEO. The Federal Circuit Court therefore exists as a statutory body, within a single entity alongside the Federal Court of Australia, Family Court of Australia and National Native Title Tribunal, supported by a single Corporate Services team.
On 1 July 2016 responsibility for the management of family law registries nationally and the majority of child dispute services were transferred to the Federal Circuit Court, with the associated budget and staff being allocated to it, within the wider entity.
Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar
Dr Stewart Fenwick
The Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar maintains autonomy in the core function of assisting the Chief Judge in the administration of the Federal Circuit Court through the exercise of delegated authorities under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and the Public Service Act 1999. The Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar has oversight of the support provided to the judges of the Federal Circuit Court across its jurisdictions, as well as delivery of family law client services nationally, and ensures that the business needs of the Court are met by the Corporate Services team. Dr Fenwick was appointed in an acting capacity by the Chief Judge during 2016–17.
Executive Director, Operations
The Executive Director of Operations is responsible for delivering court services and non-corporate services functions. This includes the network of regional offices that provide administrative and operational support.
Deputy Principal Registrar
Adele Byrne PSM
The Court’s Deputy Principal Registrar supports the judicial functioning of the Court through the provision of high-level legal and procedural advice within the Court.
Principal, Child Dispute Services
Reporting to the Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar of the Federal Circuit Court, the Principal, Child Dispute Services has national responsibility for the professional requirements of child dispute services in the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. The Principal provides strategic advice to the Chief Justice, the Chief Judge and Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrars in relation to the effective and efficient operation of child dispute services, with particular attention to the achievement of best practice standards in policy, practices and service delivery. The Principal works closely with external child and family dispute resolution bodies, as well as relevant tertiary institutions, which are important to the development and ongoing maintenance of high quality child dispute services, quality assurance and accreditation processes.
Regional Registry Managers
Regional Registry Managers (RRMs) have responsibility for the operation of the Court’s family law registries. Services provided at the family law registries include filing and processing of applications, file maintenance and records, judicial and court support, child dispute services and legal services. RRMs liaise with and support the judiciary of the courts and ensure that registry services are delivered at a high standard.
Regional Registry Manager ACT/NSW
Regional Registry Manager Vic/Tas
Regional Registry Manager QLD/SA/NT/Nth NSW
The Court’s corporate governance framework includes a range of committees and cross-entity mechanisms to support the effective management of the Court. This is in accordance with section 93 of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999 which provides for the Court to form advisory committees on the following aspects of the Court’s business:
- the exercise of powers under the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999
- the making of the Rules of Court, and
- management of the administrative affairs of the Court.
Policy Advisory Committee
The Policy Advisory Committee provides advice to the Chief Judge in relation to the Court’s overall strategies and policies for the delivery of court services. Advice is also provided to the Chief Judge and the Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar regarding the support and assistance required by judges to best exercise the judicial powers of the Commonwealth of Australia.
The committee met six times in 2016–17, considering administrative and financial matters. The committee comprises:
- Chief Judge Pascoe, Chair
- Judge Mead
- Judge Baumann
- Judge Coker
- Judge Emmett
- Judge Jarrett
- Judge Hughes
- Judge Burchardt
- Judge Spelleken
- Judge Willis
- Judge Smith
- Judge Wilson
- Dr Stewart Fenwick, Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar
- Steve Agnew, Executive Director, Operations
- Adele Byrne, Deputy Principal Registrar, and
- Benedict Porter (Secretariat).
Working groups of judges are also established as required to provide recommendations to the Chief Judge about areas of policy and practice.
Case Management Judges Committee
The FCC has a structure consisting of a National Coordinator of Case Management and case management judges who represent discrete geographical areas/locations. Through this structure, the Court actively monitors its case management across the nation and considers opportunities for improvement.
The role of case management judges also adds to the communication throughout the Court on all aspects of workload, timeliness and court practice. Case management judges are also local points of contact for regional stakeholders. The committee meets quarterly with the Chief Judge and the National Coordinator of Case Management to share information about workload trends and issues in their regions and to enhance the adoption of consistent case management practices at registry, regional and national levels.
The Legal Committee considers possible rule amendments and wider legal issues about the jurisdiction of the Court. The committee refers its recommendations to the Chief Judge for the consideration of the Court as a whole. Legislation requires that the Rules of Court be approved by all or a majority of judges. Meeting monthly, the committee considers:
- legislative developments to consider any workload or jurisprudential impacts
- recommended Rules, practice notices and approved forms, and
- legal issues impacting on the jurisdiction of the Court.
The committee also liaises with the Family Court and the Federal Court in relation to Rules, forms and fees, where appropriate, and with other committees as required to achieve their respective objectives and provide coordinated advice to the Chief Judge and the Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar.
Family Violence Committee
The Family Violence Committee is a joint committee of the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court. The committee’s principal responsibility is to provide advice to the Chief Judge, the Chief Justice and the Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar of both courts on the issue of family violence. In discharging this responsibility, the committee reviews and updates the courts’ family violence strategy and Family Violence Best Practice Principles, as well as undertaking discrete projects.
During 2016–17, members of the Family Violence Committee included:
- Justice Ryan, Family Court, Chair
- Justice Stevenson, Family Court
- Justice Hannam, Family Court
- Judge Brown, Federal Circuit Court
- Judge Hughes, Federal Circuit Court
- Judge Bender, Federal Circuit Court
- Phillip Cameron, Registrar, Family Court
- Leisha Lister, Executive Officer, Family Court, and
- Di Lojszczyk, Family Consultant.
The committee’s major project was the continued implementation of the Family Violence Plan 2014–16 which forms part of the commitment both courts have made to addressing family violence, including the measures contained in the joint Family Violence Best Practice Principles.
The Family Violence Committee also worked on issues raised by:
- the report from the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence
- Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee Inquiry into Domestic Violence, and
- internal review processes on the death of a child or party.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice Committee
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice Committee continues to coordinate the implementation of the Court’s Reconciliation Action Plan and the Court’s engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around Australia. This work has been with the help of the Indigenous Community consultative members working with judges and staff.
A number of events and activities occurred throughout the year to further the Court’s Reconciliation Action Plan aspirations.
Following the administrative changes that took effect from 1 July 2016, the Court established a Finance Committee. The role of the committee is to consider the Court’s budget position and financial affairs generally, and to make recommendations to the Chief Judge where appropriate on policies and procedures in light of expenditure. The committee also assists the Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar in the discharge of his obligations arising from the delegation of responsibility for the FCC budget, as part of the broader entity.
The committee meets at least four times in each financial year and it met on four occasions during the reporting period. The committee comprises:
- Chief Judge Pascoe AC CVO
- Judge Baumann
- Judge Driver
- Judge Emmett (Chair)
- Judge O’Sullivan
- Judge Howard
- Judge Cole, and
- Dr Stewart Fenwick, Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar.
The committee acknowledges the assistance provided by Ms Catherine Sullivan, Executive Director, Corporate Services, and Ms Kathryn Hunter, Chief Financial Officer, who provided reports at three of its meetings.
Cultural and Linguistic Diversity Committee
The Cultural and Linguistic Diversity Committee was established by the Chief Judge in February 2017. The committee is tasked with identifying barriers to access to justice in the Federal Circuit Court for persons from non-English speaking background, identifying the relevant issues and developing and implementing strategies to overcome such barriers.
In the first months since its establishment, the initial focus of the committee has been to identify issues which could be the subject of action in the short and medium term.
Federal Costs Advisory Committee
The committee comprises representatives of the four federal courts: the High Court of Australia, the Federal Court of Australia, the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. It first met in November 2007.
Membership of the committee is as follows:
- The Hon Justice R Benjamin, Family Court of Australia (Chair)
- Mr A Phelan, Chief Executive and Principal Registrar, High Court of Australia
- Mr J Mathieson, Deputy Principal Registrar, Federal Court of Australia
- Ms A Byrne, Deputy Principal Registrar, Federal Circuit Court of Australia, and
- Patricia Christie, Chief Executive Officer and Acting Principal Registrar (observer).
The committee reviews and recommends variations to the quantum of costs contained in the rules made by federal courts and advises on such other matters relating to those costs as may be referred to it by a federal court.
Senior management committees
FCC National Executive
The FCC National Executive provides administrative leadership and governance to the Court and family law registries by: supporting and providing advice to the judiciary and the CEO/PR; setting clear direction in court and user services; providing a whole-of-organisation strategic perspective; driving the delivery of priority initiatives in the family law system; and maintaining a focus on access to justice particularly in service delivery. The Family Court’s Chief Executive Officer and Acting Principal Registrar participates in national executive meetings to ensure effective communication and collaboration with that court and members of the executive provide operational assistance as needed to the Family Court of Australia.
The national executive comprises:
- Dr Stewart Fenwick, Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar
- Steve Agnew, Executive Director, Operations
- Adele Byrne, Deputy Principal Registrar
- Janet Carmichael, Principal, Child Dispute Services
- Jane Reynolds, Regional Registry Manager
- Jamie Crew, Regional Registry Manager
- Simon Kelso, Regional Registry Manager, and
- Sally Mashman, Manager National Enquiry Centre.
Client Service Senior Manager’s Group
The Client Service Senior Managers’ Group (CSSMG) comprises registry managers and registry and judicial service managers from the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court. The group aims to be innovative in the development of new ideas and seeks to identify and implement ways to continually improve service delivery across the courts by streamlining procedures, ensuring consistency in work practice, providing better information and enhancing client contact with the courts.
During the reporting period, the group met by video-link, and communicated via the courts’ Connections technology through a ‘CSSMG community’. Through this community, members can discuss issues, provide reports, post blogs and upload files for discussion.
CSSMG was involved in several priority projects during 2016–17 including:
- successful implementation of the next stage of the changes to payment options by ceasing the accept cheques, which occurred in March 2017, and
- continuing to support the shift to more electronic transactions with the implementation of refunds for event-based fees being approved in Casetrack 2.
Other work of the CSSMG has concentrated on cementing a number of the initiatives from the last financial year into the business as usual environment.
Internal and external scrutiny
The Commonwealth Ombudsman received 18 approaches about the Federal Circuit Court for the period 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017. Of these approaches 17 were not investigated and are closed and one is currently under investigation.
Senate estimates committee hearings
Senior Executive Service staff of the Court attend Senate estimates committee hearings to answer questions about the Court’s activities. In 2016–17, nine questions on notice were received and answered by the Federal Circuit Court.
There were no external evaluations during 2016–17.
National Enquiry Centre (NEC) enhancement project
The aim of the NEC enhancement project is to making findings and recommendations which will enhance the operations of the NEC. A report is due in July 2017.
The NEC is a pivotal part of the Court’s client service platform. As the contact centre for family law enquiries to the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court, it provides the national entry point for 22,500 telephone, email and web chat contacts that the courts receive on average each month. The NEC provides procedural advice for family law enquiries and provides technical support for the Commonwealth Courts Portal. In addition to its contact roles, the NEC undertakes processing work and manages the courts’ Twitter feeds.
Rewards and recognition
Australia Day Awards 2017
The 2017 Australia Day Awards recognise the significant contribution and outstanding service provided by employees to the Court.
This year’s Australia Day Award recipient was Sally Mashman from the National Enquiry Centre (NEC). Sally has been with the Court for just over 16 years and is currently the manager of the NEC. Sally’s commitment to delivering a high quality service to clients is outstanding.
During 2016 a substantial amount of work was done to develop and improve the “How do I?... ” web pages (on both the Family Court and FCC websites) which improved content for clients and reduced the number of separate emails being managed, updated and sent from the NEC to clients.
Sally worked closely with the communications team on all the changes to the “How do I apply for divorce?” content, which underpined the eDivorce strategy of moving all divorce applications online. The new page includes dynamic features and engages clients through questions to assist with their eligibility to apply.
Correction of errors in 2015–16 report
The Court has no matters to report.
NEW How do I...? resources
In focus: How do I? web pages
The Court has been working to improve our online resources, particularly the ‘How do I?..’ webpages.
The ‘How do I?’ pages explain application processes for litigants by using dynamic features which enables users to self-select content specific to their situation.
The pages can be accessed from the homepage of the Federal Circuit Court website.
How do I eFile?
The How do I eFile? page has been divided into application types, making it clearer what is required when eFiling specific types of applications with the courts using the Commonwealth Courts Portal (www.comcourts.gov.au).
How do I apply for parenting orders?
The How do I apply for parenting orders? page features clear information about a range of parenting matters and includes a link to Attorney-General’s Department’s publication Parenting Orders – what you need to know, which was launched on 19 October 2016.
How do I? for lawyers
A new ‘How do I?...’ for lawyers section has been developed as a dedicated resource specifically for lawyers and firms to self-administer their Portal accounts. It covers topics like registering a law firm, adding or changing an administrator, barristers getting access to files and setting up direct debit facilities.
How do I apply for property and financial orders?
A new property and financial page has been developed with similar features and information flow aimed at providing one central resource for clients. The property page and parenting pages also make it clear that both parenting and property orders can be sought in the same initiating application.