30 circuit locations around Australia

8206 applications finalised in General Federal Law

44,342 divorce applications filed

167,274 counter enquiries

260,844 telephone calls to the NEC

62,256 Live chats

72% of matters resolved before trial

121,109 minutes of YouTube channel watched, 35,314 views

The year in review

The 2018–19 financial year has been an extraordinarily busy period for the Federal Circuit Court of Australia on a number of levels, including: the appointment of an unprecedented number of new judges to the bench; the implementation of initiatives that have improved court performance; and most importantly, the commencement of the harmonisation project and registrars project that will provide a common set of Rules and process for family law applications in the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court.

I thank the judges, registrars and staff for their dedication, diligence and commitment to the Court and the administration of justice. They remain a fine example of hard work and integrity to the profession and community at large.

Appointments and elevations, retirements and honours

As the Federal Circuit Court approaches the end of two decades of operation, it was expected that the Court would experience significant change to its judicial membership. During 2018–19, the Attorney-General appointed eight new judges to the Court: Judge Karl Blake to Melbourne, Judge Douglas Humphreys OAM in Parramatta, Judge Monica Neville and Judge Dillon Morley in Sydney, Judge Alice Carter and Judge Anna Boymal in Melbourne, Judge Guy Andrew in Townsville and Judge Penelope Kari in Adelaide. The ceremonial sittings to welcome each of the new judges were fantastic celebrations, and enjoyed by all. Each new judge brings considerable skill and experience, which suits the Court’s broad family law and general federal law jurisdictions. I have been impressed by the way each judge has enthusiastically taken on the demanding workload and how they have embraced the Court’s well-known reputation for working hard and delivering justice to the Australian community.

The year also saw the well-deserved elevations of six experienced Federal Circuit Court judges to the Family Court, including the Honourable Justice Louise Henderson, the Honourable Justice Jillian Williams, the Honourable Justice Joshua Wilson, the Honourable Justice Robert Harper, the Honourable Justice Christine Mead and the Honourable Justice Norah Hartnett. I wish to convey my gratitude to these greatly respected judges for their outstanding service to the Court, some of whom have been with the Federal Circuit Court since its inception. I congratulate each of them on their elevation.

Retiring quietly and without fanfare, Judge Suzie Jones left the Court in early July 2018. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Judge Jones who made a substantial contribution to the Court. 

In February 2019, Judge Justin Smith left the Court to take up a position on the bench with the District Court of New South Wales. I thank Judge Smith and congratulate him on his appointment and wish him well.

In June 2019, the Court’s inaugural and long-standing Principal Registrar and Deputy Principal Registrar, Adele Byrne, announced her intention to retire in late 2019. Adele’s tremendous service to the Court, which commenced at the time of the Court’s establishment over 19 years ago, was recognised by the Commonwealth when she was awarded a Public Service Medal in 2008 for outstanding public service in the establishment and administration of the (then) Federal Magistrates Court of Australia. The judges and staff of the Court are grateful for Adele’s dedication, intellectual contribution and kind support that she provided for nearly two decades.

I personally, would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank Adele for her extraordinary contribution to the Federal Circuit Court and to me personally in my role as Head of Jurisdiction, and I wish her all the very best in her retirement. She will be missed.

It is with great pride that we saw a familiar name in the 2019 Australia Day Honours list. Judge Sylvia Emmett AM was awarded Member of the General Division of the Order of Australia for significant service to the law, to the judiciary, and to professional legal associations. Congratulations to Judge Emmett on attaining this significant achievement.

Court performance

It is well-known that Federal Circuit Court judges are amongst the hardest working judges in the country and, in most cases, carry a judicial docket ranging anywhere between 300 and 500 matters. The daily, weekly and monthly pressures on our judges to hear matters in court and deliver judgments in a timely and expeditious manner are relentless. The Court is continuously facing scrutiny from a number of sources in relation to its workload, and it is an ongoing challenge for the Court to balance its increasing workload with the timely finalisation and delivery of reserved judgments.

Timely delivery of judgments

A significant area of improvement in the Court’s performance this financial year was in the increased number of reserved judgments delivered in a timely way. At 30 June 2018, 40 per cent of reserved judgments were over six months old. At 30 June 2019, this figure had reduced to 21 per cent.

These improved performance figures reflect the dedication and hard work of the judges of the Court, in a jurisdiction where filings continue to be unrelenting. In 2017–18, the number of applications for final orders filed in family law totalled 17,241. During 2018–19, the total final order filings were 17,070.

The pressure of outstanding reserved judgments has a critical impact on judicial health and wellbeing and I am committed to providing judges every assistance to facilitate timely delivery of judgments and to relieve the pressure on judicial officers. To that end, the Court has implemented a reserved judgments policy. Judges are offered the support of case management judges and national practice area judges and mentors, and in some rare circumstances, relief from court duties to focus on reducing outstanding judgments.

Statistics and liaison with the Federal Court of Australia

During 2018–19, the Federal Court and the Federal Circuit Court business development teams worked on improving statistical reporting that will better inform the Chief Judge and the CEO and Principal Registrar on critical aspects of court performance. The ability to provide accurate statistical information to judicial officers also supports the administration of the Court and enables the Court’s policy advisors to clearly identify where and when assistance needs to be provided. Many thanks to Steve Agnew, Executive Director of Performance, Planning and Strategy, for his tireless efforts on this front.

Working together on reform

Joint Rules Harmonisation Working Group

In February 2019, the courts’ Joint Rules Harmonisation Working Group was established to oversee the development of a common set of rules, forms and case management practices across the family law jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court.

This project is considered to be one of the most significant initiatives undertaken in many years in family law. Its focus is on making the Court system easier to navigate and less confusing, and to reduce duplication and delays experienced by families. The working group comprises judges of both the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court. It is chaired by former Federal Court Judge, the Honourable Dr Chris Jessup QC, who is assisted by two barristers. The involvement of Dr Jessup QC has provided objectivity, transparency and confidence in the process and I am grateful Dr Jessup QC accepted my invitation to oversee this vital project. Extensive consultation with the judiciary, the profession and other stakeholders will take place as the project progresses into the next financial year.

Court reform

The Government’s proposal to reform the structure of the federal courts by merging the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court created uncertainty during the year. This was unresolved prior to the end of the financial year, however, following the federal election in May, the Attorney-General, the Honourable Christian Porter MP, has publicised his intention to continue with the Government’s plans to reform the family law courts as a top priority.

Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into the family law system

In March 2019, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) released its Final Report Family Law for the Future – An Inquiry into the Family Law System. A response from Government regarding the report had not been released at the end of this financial year. Irrespective of this, it is clear that the report highlights the many complex challenges facing the family law system. The Court is considering the ALRC’s recommendations and will continue working with the state, territory and federal government to ensure the best possible outcomes for children and families, particularly as we see more families having to navigate proceedings between the Commonwealth and state and territory court systems.

Working together on case management

Review of case management initiatives: achievements, pilots and results

Efforts to improve the Court’s case management continued this year, with a number of projects continuing from the previous financial year, and other new projects commencing. Some of the initiatives and projects are outlined below.

Newcastle Financial Applications Pilot

The Newcastle Financial Applications Pilot, introduced in February 2018, continued during the year and has delivered positive results to better manage financial applications in family law through the use of registrars. The Court will extend the program to larger registries across the country over the next financial year. Under this model, all new financial only applications are listed for a first return date before a registrar. The files are case managed by the registrar in conjunction with the docket judge, and any urgent interim issues that cannot be resolved are referred to the docket judge for consideration. Once the matters have been to a conciliation conference, private mediation or other dispute resolution, if they remain unresolved, they are referred back to the docket judge by the registrar.

Of the 302 matters that have progressed through the pilot in Newcastle so far, 69 per cent have been finalised without judicial involvement and only 31 per cent went to a judicial officer. On a larger scale, the reduction of pressure on judicial resources is significant and will allow judges more time to hear the often more intractable family law disputes.

Enhanced role of registrars

Registrar delegations were increased in 2018–19 which forms part of a plan to expand the involvement of registrars in case management, ideally leading to a quicker resolution and a reduction in the number of matters within judicial dockets.

In November 2018, all registrars working across the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court were reunified, having previously been allocated to work in specific courts. Reunification of the registrars into a single cohort allows for better national management, consistency in practice, and opportunity for the strengthening of skills and professional development. Work continues towards consistent registrar delegations across both courts. I thank Deputy Principal Registrar, Adele Byrne, and acting CEO and Principal Registrar, Virginia Wilson, for their considerable hard work and support in this area.

Further work will be conducted on this in the coming financial year, including the creation of a business case to introduce a greater number of registrars into the Court and enhance their role.

Admiralty Practice Direction

A new Practice Direction in Admiralty was released in June 2019 with the assistance of Judge Sandy Street. The Practice Direction No 2 of 2019 establishes a national arrangement whereby Admiralty Panel judges will undertake the admiralty and maritime work of the Court. They will be assisted in undertaking the work by nominated registrars and skilled registry officers. I extend my thanks to Judge Street for his efforts on this Practice Direction.

Working together on family violence and policy initiatives

Family Violence Plan launched

The courts recognise that there is a close connection between family breakdown and violence, and the detrimental impact that family violence has on adults and children and in April 2019, the Court and the Family Court released an updated Family Violence Plan. The plan was originally developed in 2014 and demonstrates the courts’ ongoing commitment to addressing issues of family violence by providing a comprehensive set of actions that will support people who are experiencing, or are at risk of, family violence.

I would like to acknowledge the important work undertaken by the Family Violence Committee in bringing this plan to fruition and to those who have contributed to its development. Protecting family members, and particularly children, from the effects of family violence is fundamental to decisions made in the best interests of the children. Ensuring the safety of people involved in family law litigation is a significant priority for the Court.

Family violence training module for all staff

The Court is deeply committed to protecting individuals, and particularly children, from the effects of family violence. With rates of family violence unacceptably high within Australia, families engaging with the family law system often experience significantly higher rates of family violence than the general community, which makes this issue particularly relevant to all staff working in the family courts, including registrars, associates, registry officers and security staff.

As part of the courts’ Family Violence Plan, all staff were required during the year, to complete mandatory training via the Court’s eLearning training system. Staff were encouraged to undertake the course, called Let’s Talk: Family Violence, over a few sessions, taking time to consider the content and how it influences the way they approach their work and the courts’ clients.

Risk management screening tool in development

During 2018–19, the Court considered a new approach to risk assessment and triage that would assist in the early identification of high risk cases and enable better support for families in need of assistance. The overarching goal is to improve the safety outcomes for families involved in family violence-related cases.

The development of a risk screening tool to quickly identify issues of family violence and people who are at significant risk of harm, is a priority for the Court. The introduction of a screening tool would also enable earlier information sharing with state and territory police and government agencies in high-risk cases. The Court is also considering how early case assessment and screening processes could be used to identify families with high needs and refer them to external support services.

The project is at an early stage of development, however, to fully complete and implement a new risk screening tool, the Court is dependent on securing government funding.

Reconciliation Action Plan launched

The Court continued its strong commitment to supporting access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and coinciding with National Reconciliation Week in May 2019, the Court released its updated Reconciliation Action Plan 2019–2021 (RAP).

The Federal Circuit Court was the first court in Australia to enter into a RAP, when in 2014, the Court’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice/RAP Committee looked at ways to improve access to our services.

The Court’s reconciliation journey continues through the objectives set out in the new RAP. The RAP provides a platform to introduce practical measures that promote reconciliation and addresses some of the barriers faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in interacting with the Court. It also prioritises establishing relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and community leaders, agencies servicing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, legal services and other stakeholders. I am extremely proud of the work of the committee on this policy.

Indigenous lists

During the year, a pilot continued to operate in the Sydney registry that involved the introduction of a dedicated Family Law Indigenous list. Judge Sexton, now retired, was instrumental in establishing the pilot, which is now under the stewardship of Judge Boyle. Judge Charlotte Kelly in Adelaide has also started a similar pilot for an Indigenous Family Law List. Judge Judy Small has also been instrumental in coordinating the commencement of an Indigenous family law list in Melbourne. The Melbourne list has been named Nalleijerring Gahgook which means ‘unite with respect’.

The Court is deeply committed to Indigenous access to justice issues. It hopes to explore and implement family law Indigenous lists in a number of registries, with the support of government funding. Discreet funding will be necessary as the cases involved in these lists are likely to present complex issues that will require significant judicial time and court resources.

Engagement with stakeholders

Attorney-General’s Department Forum

In May 2019, I was invited, together with other judicial representatives, by the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) to participate in the AGD Family Law Forum. I am grateful for the opportunity to provide the Department with an update on the Court and the issues it currently faces, and be given a chance to contribute constructively to discussions that will ultimately inform policy decisions of Government, particularly where structural reform is currently on the Government’s agenda.

Family Law Section National Family Law Conference

In October 2018, I presented a State of the Nation address at the Family Law Section National Family Law Conference in Brisbane. This was my inaugural address to this forum and I was pleased to have been provided with an opportunity to update the profession and stakeholders on the Court’s performance and the new initiatives that had been implemented. A copy of my State of the Nation speech and slides are available on the Court’s website.

AIFS panel

I was honoured to have been invited to contribute opening remarks to a panel discussion conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in June 2019. The panel was constituted to look closely at matters raised in the ALRC Final Report. Topical issues discussed were holistic support services, family violence, information sharing and structural reform, and their potential impact on families and those dealing with family separation.

The importance of these stakeholders, as well as the profession, who work tirelessly for a better and more improved family law system cannot be understated.

Ongoing support for judicial welfare and staff resilience training

Staff resilience training was carried out this year by Executive Director, People, Culture and Communications, Darrin Moy. Over 600 staff participated and the results showed that it was very rewarding experience for over 90 per cent of participants.

Digital Court File

The Digital Court File project gathered significant momentum this year in the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court. Judges are being educated in the new online platform with one-on-one training sessions and have been assisted by the provision of extensive IT support.

The Court is continuing to investigate the extent to which paper files could be phased out completely. We look forward to the implementation of the project in the near future.

Finally, I sincerely thank all judges, registrars and staff for their extraordinary efforts, tireless work and dedication. I look forward to continuing the work to improve the family law system and to another exciting and productive year.

[Signed in hard copy]

The Honourable
Will Alstergren
Chief Judge

Other highlights in 2018-19

Statistics at a glance

Table 1.1: Filings and finalisations in family law and general federal law









Final orders





Interim orders





Divorce applications










Total family law





Table 1.1: Filings and finalisations in family law and general federal law


































Intellectual property





Human rights










Total general federal law





Court initiatives

Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Act 2018

The Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Act 2018 commenced on 10 March 2019 amending the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). Division 4 of Part XI of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) now provides that, from 10 September 2019, unrepresented parties will not be permitted to personally cross-examine another party if there are allegations of family violence and:

  • either party has been convicted of, or is charged with, an offence involving violence, or threat of violence, involving the other party – s 102NA(1)(c)(i)
  • a final Family Violence Order applies to both parties – s 102NA(1)(c)(ii)
  • an injunction has been made under s 68B or s 114 of the Family Law Act for the personal protection of one party against another – s 102NA(1)(c)(iii), or
  • the Court makes an order that personal cross-examination should not be permitted – s 102NA(1)(c)(iv).

In matters involving alleged family violence which do not fall into the above categories, personal cross-examination by an unrepresented party is permitted, but the Court must ensure alternative protections, such as cross-examination via video link, are implemented – s 102NB.

In preparation for the operation of the above provisions, the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court have been collaborating with the AGD and the various state legal aid agencies in the preparation of resources to assist litigants, as well as the development of suitable arrangements for the referral of parties to access the scheme. The courts have prepared for the implementation through identifying matters already listed for hearing which may be subject to these provisions and making arrangements for referral or relisting to address any issues.

Section 102NC requires a review of the operation of Division 4 to occur. The Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court will assist the AGD in the collection of data. The courts have been liaising with the AGD in the preparation of a data collection form that will be completed by court staff to assist in the review.

Access and inclusion

The Court continues to develop and implement plans under its access and inclusion framework. The framework aims to ensure all clients, particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged clients, receive the assistance they need to access the Court.

The framework acknowledges that justice begins well before a litigant has their first court event, and that a client’s capacity to participate in court processes is significantly influenced by the quality of information and the level of administrative support they receive.

Linking to the International Framework for Court Excellence, the access and inclusion framework also takes a broader view across the shared infrastructure needed to support the delivery of accessible services (e.g. information technology, training and performance development) as well as identifying the links, approaches, synergies and principles that affect justice as a whole.

The Court recognises that people do not neatly fit into a single target client group; hence, the Court has tried to adopt a flexible model of service delivery that allows staff to tailor services to the individual’s need.

Social media

With the move to more digital practices, the Court uses social media to communicate in real time with court users and the profession.


Twitter provides followers with timely, relevant and easy access to information about the Court. Followers are predominately legal professionals, law students, journalists and members of the general public.

Tweets include:

  • judgments, reports, publications and factsheets
  • legislative news – changes to rules, practice directions, forms or fee updates
  • Commonwealth Courts Portal news, and
  • media releases and statements.

2018–19 statistics at a glance

  • 109 tweets sent, an average of two per week
  • Top tweet – 10 December 2018

Image of tweet reading Practice Directions 1 of 2019 - Judicial mediations in family law matters, commences on 1 Jan 2019. It sets out arrangements for the conduct of Judicial Mediations in the family law jurisdiction of the FCC

The Court’s Twitter address is https://twitter.com/FedCctCourtAU.


The Court’s YouTube channel provides a range of videos to help litigants prepare for and understand court processes.

During 2018–19, the Court’s channel had a total of 35,314 views, with 121,109 minutes watched. The most viewed video was ‘How to apply for a divorce: serving divorce papers’, which provides a step-by-step guide to serving divorce papers in Australia.

The Court’s YouTube channel is at www.youtube.com/user/federalcircuitcourt.

Online proof of divorce

An online proof of divorce request process was introduced in 2015 to streamline the process for people wanting to obtain a copy of their divorce order from the Court. The process involves completing an online interactive form and submitting payment online by credit card. The Court then provides an original copy of the divorce.

The process has been very successful. In 2018–19, 10,656 proof of divorce requests were processed.

Live Chat

Live chat was launched in April 2014. Live chat is a cost-effective and quick channel of communication, with staff able to manage up to four conversations at once. It also provides a convenient way for clients to access the courts and engage with client service officers.

The National Enquiry Centre (NEC) is now averaging 246 live chats per day. Portal support and applying for a divorce are the most popular live chat topics.

Photo of Mayor Manning, Judge Willis AM and Dennis Remedio during Reconciliation Week celebrations in Cairns
L-R: Mayor Manning, Judge Willis AM and Dennis Remedio during Reconciliation Week celebrations in Cairns

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander access to justice

The Court’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice Committee was pleased to announce the launch of the Federal Circuit Court’s second RAP during National Reconciliation Week in May 2019.

Under the second RAP, the Court continues to focus on the issues surrounding access to justice, including the need for the appointment of further Indigenous Liaison Officers, promotion of the Indigenous Lists in registries, engagement with our local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and encouragement and support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander law students around Australia.

Fresh and invigorating art work titled Life’s Connections was commissioned by the Court from emerging Cairns Aboriginal artist, Jedess Hudson, descendent from the Ewamian and Western Yalanji clans of Far North Queensland.

Events celebrating National Reconciliation Week were held around Australia including in Newcastle, Parramatta, Sydney, Cairns and Melbourne.

As well as progressing the ideals of the RAP, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice Committee has several exciting projects underway, including Judge Sexton’s involvement in securing funding for the development of a short film for use in Indigenous agencies and community groups to promote the work of the Court. Judge Small is advancing the establishment of an Indigenous List in Melbourne, and a Kin Carers Conference is to be held in Cairns organised by Dennis Remedio and Judge Willis AM. The list has been established in Sydney, Darwin, Alice Springs and Adelaide.