By Sally Baker, Special Counsel and Natalie Landberg, Lawyer
As COVID-19 restrictions ease across Australia, the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia have updated court protocols for the conduct of hearings.
Given social distancing requirement remain in place, face to face hearings will gradually resume, in a limited capacity as of 15 June 2020. Each major Registry will utilise four courtrooms which the courts intend to increase over time.
Each application to have a hearing conducted face to face will be assessed on each application’s merits with the co-ordinating Judge is to have discretion as to which hearings are to proceed in person, and which hearings are to be conducted by telephone or Microsoft Teams. Preference will be given to urgent trials and urgent hearings of applications that are unable to be conducted by Microsoft Teams.
The majority of hearings conduct in the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia will continue to be heard by electronic means. The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Honourable Will Alstergren has indicated that the family law courts have been able to conduct over 80% of their work via electronic hearings since March 2020.
To align with Government requirements, in addition to limiting Registry capacity:
- hearing times will be staggered
- appearances are to be orally announced at the commencement of the hearing
- each courtroom will have a maximum capacity of eight people at any given time (in addition to court staff and judicial officer)
- no hardcopy documents are to be tendered during hearings and where possible, electronic court books are to be utilised
Practitioners and parties are permitted to be present on the floor of the Court where their hearing is being conducted and the entrance level only, and should exit the Registry building promptly once their hearing has concluded.