COVID-19 is impacting the operation of every facet of life and work around the world. There is no exception for the courts in Australia which have seen major changes to the procedure and operation of the court system. In this article, we explore how the Family Court in particular is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Changes

The Court has altered its operation in a variety of ways to ensure the health and safety of litigants and court staff and members.

Hearings:
The majority of court hearings and events will now be done remotely via a telephone or video conference. The Court has said that telephone appearance procedures will generally be most appropriate for the following:

  • First Return Duty Lists;
  • Abridgements;
  • Mentions;
  • Directions; and
  • Interim Hearings

The Court will notify the parties as to whether their matter is able to be dealt with remotely. If it is possible, the judge and court staff will be in the courtroom during the time of the listings. Interpreters may also appear by telephone, if required. The parties can attend by telephone or video conference in the comfort of their homes or office.

Once the Court has notified the parties of the requirement to attend court via telephone, a party may ask that the matter not be heard by telephone, due to it being impractical. They may also say that their matter is urgent and requires the parties to attend in person. In this circumstance, the matter may be adjourned or remain listed for a face-to-face hearing. However, the Court has strictly imposed a limit on the number of matters which will be dealt with in open court.

Changes to Everyday Operations:
There are a number of changes the Court has imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic:

  • Non-urgent matters may be adjourned to a future date (meaning postponed). This is at the discretion of the judicial officer.
  • The registry services of the Court will be provided remotely via telephone or online services.
  • In urgent circumstances, face-to-face interaction in a registry may be allowed, but only after an initial assessment.
  • All documentation will need to be filed electronically through the online Commonwealth Courts Portal.
  • For urgent matters (such as those involving domestic violence) which are held in court, matters will not be listed for more than 1.5 hours, and with sufficient time in between to allow cleaning of the court to occur.
  • To reduce the length of any face-to-face hearing, where possible, hearings are to be complemented with written submissions or conducted via telephone, if necessary

Impact for Future Proceedings

If you are involved in current proceedings before the Court, there may be changes in the way your matter is dealt with. It is important to be prepared for changes in the way your matter runs and what form of communication will be utilised. If your matter is classified as ‘non-urgent’ you should be prepared for your matter to be potentially postponed for a period of time.

Further information relating to court operations and COVID-19 can be accessed from the COVID-19 updates and information page on the Family Court’s website.

Where Can I Find More Information?

It is important to be fully aware of the impact COVID-19 may have on your legal matter. If you would like further information, please do not hesitate to contact one of our experienced solicitors on 9963 9800 or via email at law@etheringtons.com.au.

Etheringtons Solicitors extends our deepest sympathies to those experiencing hardship or health concerns during this difficult time. Further information about COVID-19 can be found at: www.health.gov.au.