ISSN: 1444–6707 (print version)

ISSN: 1447–5065 (online version)

© Commonwealth of Australia 2020

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Federal Court of Australia
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GPO Box 9991
Ph: +61 2 6267 0640

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Letter of transmittal

14 September 2020

The Honourable Christian Porter MP
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Attorney-General,

I am pleased to present the annual report on the operations of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia for the financial year ending 30 June 2020, in accordance with Section 117 of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999.

This report has been prepared in accordance with the Department of Finance’s Resource Management Guide No. 135: annual reports for non-corporate Commonwealth entities (May 2020), but adjusted to reflect the changes in structure brought about by the Courts Administration Legislation Amendment Act 2016.

A report on the provision of corporate services and the financial statements are included as part of the Federal Court of Australia’s 2019–20 annual report. This is due to the Courts Administration Legislation Amendment Act 2016 that amended a number of Acts in order to adjust the courts’ governance structures to support shared services and bring the courts into a single administrative entity under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and a single statutory agency under the Public Service Act 1999.

This is the Court’s 21st annual report.

Yours sincerely,

[Signed in hard copy]

The Honourable William Alstergren
Chief Judge

Reader’s guide

The purpose of this report is to inform the Attorney-General, the Parliament, Court clients and the general public about the performance of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia in the financial year ending 30 June 2020.

Prepared according to parliamentary reporting requirements, the report outlines the goals in the Court’s Portfolio Budget Statements and Corporate Plan and relates them to the results achieved during the year to those goals. It provides information on the Court’s performance in relation to its stated outcome:

Apply and uphold the rule of law for litigants in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia through more informal and streamlined resolution of family law and general federal law matters according to law, through the encouragement of appropriate dispute resolution processes and through the effective management of the administrative affairs of the Court.

Part 1: The year in review

Highlights significant issues and initiatives the Court has undertaken during the reporting year as well as developments during 2019–20.

Part 2: Overview of the Court

Provides information about the Court, including its role, functions, organisational structure, appointments and retirements and court service locations.

Part 3: Report on Court performance

Reports on how the Court performed during the period against the outcome and related program.

Part 4: Management and accountability

Provides information on corporate governance and judicial and collaborative committees.

Part 5: Appendices

Includes outcome and program statement, freedom of information data, information about committees, judicial activities, information required by other legislation and contact details.

Part 6: Indexes

Includes the list of requirements and alphabetical index.

Acronyms and abbreviations and a glossary of court-specific terminology are on pages iii–v.

An electronic version of this annual report is available from the Court’s website at

Acronyms and abbreviations

Administrative Appeals Tribunal
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Companion of the Order of Australia
Australian Consumer Law
Apprehended Domestic Violence Order
Attorney-General’s Department
Australian Human Rights Commission
Australian Law Reform Commission
Member of the Order of Australia
Officer of the Order of Australia
Australian Public Service
Australian Securities and Investments Commission
Australasian Legal Information Institute
Creative Commons
Commerce Clearing House
Child Dispute Services
Chief Executive Officer
Central Migration Docket
Continuing Professional Development
Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
Digital Court File
Digital Court Program
Enterprise Agreement
Citation for all decisions of the Federal Circuit Court
Freedom of Information
Family Relationships Advice Line
Fair Work Commission
Intellectual Property
Key Performance Indicator
National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee
National Enquiry Centre
Medal of the Order of Australia
Priority Property Pools under $500,000
Public Governance, Performance and Accountability
Queens Counsel
Reconciliation Action Plan
Senior Counsel

Glossary of Court-specific terms


A written statement by a party or witness. An affidavit is the main way of presenting the facts of a case to the Court.


An application to a higher court to review a decision of a lower court or tribunal.


A person who files an appeal with a court.


The individual, organisation or corporation who/which applies to the Court to commence legal proceedings against another person or persons. Also known as ‘plaintiff’ in admiralty and corporations matters and in some other courts.


The document that starts most proceedings in the Court.


The matter before the Court.


A place the Court regularly visits in rural and regional Australia.

Dispute resolution

Procedures and services to help resolve disputes before or during a court hearing without the need for a judicial decision. It may include mediation, conciliation or counselling.

Docket system

A system by which each case is allocated to a particular judge who generally manages the matter from commencement to disposition.


The procedure of electronically lodging a document through the Commonwealth Courts Portal.


The procedure of electronically lodging general federal law documents in the Federal Circuit Court.


The process of the Court accepting a document or documents lodged by a party to a proceeding.

In personam

An action or right against a specific person.

In rem

An action against certain property.


The final order or set of orders made by the Court after a hearing, often accompanied by reasons which set out the facts and law applied in the case. A judgment is said to be ‘reserved’ when the Court postpones the delivery of the judgment to a later date to allow the presiding judicial officer time to consider the evidence and submissions. A judgment is said to be ‘ex tempore’ when the presiding judicial officer gives the judgment orally at the hearing or very shortly thereafter.


The extent of legal authority or power of the Court to apply the law.


Individuals, organisations or companies who/which are the parties to a proceeding before the Court.


A court order is a document that sets out what the parties must do. Orders can be urgent, interim (temporary) or final. Courts usually have wide-ranging powers to make orders to enforce judgments.


People involved in a court case. Applicants, respondents and defendants are generally called ‘parties’.

Pro bono

Legal work performed without charge for litigants who cannot afford the cost of a lawyer and are not eligible for legal aid. Pro bono legal work is done at a substantially reduced rate, or in some circumstances, at no cost.


The regular and orderly progression of a matter including all acts and events between the time of commencement and judgment.


A court lawyer who has been delegated power to perform certain tasks on behalf of a judge; e.g. grant divorces, sign consent orders and determine the next step in a case.


The Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court Regulation 2012 and the Family Law (Fees) Regulation 2012 which prescribe the filing and other fees that must be paid for proceedings in the Court.


A party to court proceedings against whom relief is claimed.


Rules made by the judges that set out the procedures for conducting a proceeding in the Court. The rules of the Federal Circuit Court are the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001 and the Federal Circuit Court (Bankruptcy) Rules 2016.

Unrepresented litigant

A party to a matter who does not have legal representation and represents themselves before the Court.

Supplementary document

Any document lodged against an existing cause of action that does not attract a fee and does not require follow up action by court staff once lodged.

Tables and Figures

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

Table 2.1: Federal Circuit Court of Australia Judges, 30 June 2020

Table 3.1: Snapshot of Court performance against targets

Table 3.2: Family law, general federal law and migration applications filed and finalised, 2019–20

Table 3.3: Family law applications filed by type, 2019–20

Table 3.4: General federal law applications filed by type, 2019–20

Table 3.5: Notice of appeals filed, finalised and pending by jurisdiction, 2015–16 to 2019–20

Table 3.6: Number of matters referred to mediation, 2015–16 to 2019–20

Table 3.7: Filings and mediation referrals to a registrar as a percentage of filings, 2019–20

Table 3.8: Mediation referral outcomes, 2019–20

Table 3.9: Federal Circuit Court complaints by category, 2019–20

Table 3.10: Federal Circuit Court judgments by jurisdictional category, 2019–20

Table A1.1: Outcome 3: Federal Circuit Court of Australia

Table A6.1: Federal Circuit Court Committees, 30 June 2020

Table A9.1: Information required by other legislation

Figure 2.1: Organisational structure of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, 30 June 2020

Figure 3.1: Percentage of applications filed, 2019–20

Figure 3.2: Case management approach in family law (docket system)

Figure 3.3: Family law applications filed by type, 2019–20

Figure 3.4: Final orders applications, 2015–16 to 2019–20

Figure 3.5: Interim orders applications, 2015–16 to 2019–20

Figure 3.6: Issues sought in final orders applications, 2019–20

Figure 3.7: Divorce applications, 2015–16 to 2019–20

Figure 3.8: Representation of litigants in final order applications at some stage in the proceedings, 2015–16 to 2019–20

Figure 3.9: Migration applications filed and finalised, 2015–16 to 2019–20

Figure 3.10: Visa categories comprising pending Federal Circuit Court migration caseload

Figure 3.11: Bankruptcy applications, 2015–16 to 2019–20

Figure 3.12: Fair work applications filed and finalised, 2015–16 to 2019–20

Figure 3.13: Human rights applications filed and finalised, 2015–16 to 2019–20

Figure 3.14: Intellectual property applications filed and finalised, 2015–16 to 2019–20

Figure 3.15: Source of appeals and related actions filed in the Federal Court, 2015–16 to 2019–20

Our 20 year journey


23 December

The Federal Magistrates Act 1999 and the Federal Magistrates (Consequential Amendments) Act 1999 receive royal assent.


23 March

Peter May appointed as the Court’s first Chief Executive Officer.

11 May

The Hon Diana Bryant AO QC sworn in as Court’s first Chief Federal Magistrate by the Hon Murray Gleeson AC, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.

23 June

First applications filed in the Court.

28 June

The Court’s first Federal Magistrates sworn in: Murray McInnis (Melbourne), Norah Hartnett (Melbourne), Christine Mead (Adelaide), Michael Baumann (Brisbane), Jim Brewster (Canberra), Warren Donald (Newcastle), Stephen Scarlett (Parramatta), Judy Ryan (Parramatta) and John Coker (Townsville).

30 June

Court receives 438 filings in its first week of operation.

3 July

First sittings conducted in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Newcastle, Parramatta and Townsville.


30 June

15 judicial officers. Court receives 36,435 applications in its first full year of operation. Casetrack implemented in the Court’s Newcastle, Parramatta, Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne and Dandenong registries.

30 July

The Federal Magistrates Court Rules 2001 commenced.

2 October

The Court received its Migration jurisdiction.


30 June

743 divorce decrees granted. 182 applications for migration matters. 62 calls per day to the customer service phone line.


15 April

Copyright Act 1968 was amended by the Copyright Amendment (Parallel Importation) Act, allowing the Court to hear copyright matters from 13 May 2003.

30 June

18 judicial officers.
1,397 migration applications filed.


29 March

Court launches the first interactive divorce application form.

30 June

3,031 migration applications filed.
47,379 divorce applications filed.

14 July

Appointment of the Hon John Pascoe AC CVO as Court’s second Chief Federal Magistrate. Combined registry project commences.


26 April

John Mathieson appointed as Chief Executive Officer.

30 June

30 judicial officers.
2,478 migration applications filed.

1 December

Migration Litigation Reform Act 2005 came into effect. The Court now has the same migration jurisdiction that the High Court has under section 75(v) of the Constitution.


30 June

34 judicial officers. 46,512 divorce applications filed.
After two months in operation, the NEC is receiving 1,000 calls a day.


30 June

48 Federal Magistrates. Commonwealth Courts Portal development announced.


28 November

Richard Foster appointed acting Chief Executive Officer.


1 July

Fair Work (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 2009 included miscellaneous amendments to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999 to establish two divisions within the Federal Circuit Court, a Fair Work division and a general division. From 1 July 2009 proceedings in the Court must be instituted, heard and determined in one of these divisions.


23 June

Court’s 10th anniversary. 61 judicial officers. 91,678 applications filed.


8 December

Appointment of Australia’s first Indigenous Commonwealth judicial officer, Judge Matthew Myers.


13 September

Announcement that Court’s name will change to Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

15 October

Launch of first Family Violence Best Practice Principles.


1 March

The Federal Circuit Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2012 and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Legislation Amendment Act 2012 passed.

12 April

Court name changed to Federal Circuit Court of Australia. Federal Magistrates became known as Judges.

30 June

64 judicial officers.
85,599 applications filed.


25 March

Court receives the 2014 Australian Migration and Settlement Award in the area of Diversity and the Law.

4 April

Federal Circuit Court is the first Australian court to enter into a Reconciliation Action Plan.


Launch of the Court’s first Family Violence Plan.


12 January

New Notice of Risk becomes mandatory in the Court.


12 October

Retirement of John Pascoe as Chief Judge.

13 October

Appointment of the Hon William Alstergren as Chief Judge.

14 February

Judicial Wellbeing Committee established.

February to May

Callovers of more than 1,600 pending family law matters, achieving a settlement rate of 50%.



Joint Rules Harmonisation Working Group established.


Launch of the Court’s updated Reconciliation Action Plan.


Central Migration Docket implemented.

September to December

Discrete Property List launched in Brisbane, Sydney and Parramatta.



Discrete Property List launched in Adelaide and Melbourne.

14 April

Digital Court File for family law goes live.

16 April

National Arbitration List established.

17 April

Appointment of David Pringle as CEO and Principal Registrar.

29 April

National COVID-19 List established.

23 June

Court’s 20th anniversary.

30 June

68 judicial officers.
95,896 applications, which includes 85,563 family law, 6,555 migration and 3,778 general federal law.


30 circuit locations around Australia

85,563 filings in family law

Digital court file established for family law

3,778 applications filed in general federal law

6,555 applications filed in migration

518 family law applications called over in the summer campaign

45,886 divorce applications filed

73% of matters resolved before trial

29 April 2020 covid-19 list established to handle increase in urgent family law applications

2,130 hours of YouTube channel watched

38,066 YouTube views