The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia (FCFCOA) has updated its advice on how family court services will be delivered as Australia begins to open up again. The following information applies to the FCFCOA in the ACT, NSW and Victoria. Wondering if your matter will likely be heard in person or whether it will proceed over electronic means? Here’s what you need to know.
[Court update on COVID-19 measures…continued]
Court events that will proceed in-person
Final hearings (trials)
These are expected to now be held in person again, if the presiding judge finds it appropriate after looking at the individual case circumstances. Approval also needs to be granted by the Chief Justice/Chief Judge.
Confirmation of your double-vaccination will be needed to be provided in advance. If unavailable, alternatives include the unvaccinated party (or party not providing proof of vaccination) seeking to attend electronically, whether or not the other party will still attend in person. It may be that all parties are directed to attend electronically. As a last resort, the matter will be adjourned.
Urgent matters and those with exceptional circumstances may still proceed to final hearing in person even with a party who is not double-vaccinated. This will be examined on a case by case basis and risk minimisation procedures followed.
Court events that will be conducted electronically
A range of hearings will continue to be heard electronically, unless the presiding judicial officer decides it would be unfair or cause injustice to a party if the matter proceeds in this way. The Chief Justice/Chief Judge or Principal Registrar will also have to have granted approval.
These court events include:
Interim or interlocutory hearings
Other short hearings
For example, first return hearings, duty lists, mentions, directions, judgment delivery, bankruptcy lists and divorce hearings.
Family law Dispute resolution events
These include Conciliation Conferences and Dispute Resolution Conferences (unless the Registrar determines the matter needs an in-person conference to be effectively mediated, and approval has been granted by the Principal Registrar. In that case, proof of double-vaccination status will be required in advance.
Court Child Expert events
This includes interviews of parents by Court Child Experts, and observations and interviews of a child or children. If a Court decides that there are specific reasons why the interview needs to be conducted in-person, and approval has been granted by the Principal Registrar.
Again, if the observation or interview will be in-person, you or your legal representative needs to confirm the double-vaccination status of the person bringing the child to the court or participating in the interview. Children over 12 will also need to be vaccinated.
If the matter is urgent or there are exceptional circumstances, it may still be that the interviews or observations occur in person even when a child or their carer is not double-vaccinated. This will be assessed on a case by case basis with risk minimisation procedures put in place.
If you will be attending court in person
For in-person court events when a judicial officer or the court has directed that it is to proceed in person, bear the following in mind.
- Only double-vaccinated people can attend a court registry in person (some special exceptional circumstances exist). The courts will need people to show proof of vaccination. If you’re represented by a lawyer, they need to give the court written confirmation that everyone attending the hearing will be double-vaccinated. If you’re self-represented, you need to email the court beforehand that you are double-vaccinated. Also any other necessary person or witness who will attend for you. All confirmation needs to be given at least 5 days prior to the court event.
- You’ll need to check into the court building as you are accustomed to in other venues.
- You’ll need to wear a face mask while in a court registry (whether courtroom, interview room or mediation room). Masks can however be removed during a hearing while speaking to a judicial officer. Anyone with an exemption from wearing a face mask has to provide proof of their exemption.
- Social distancing measures are still in place (remaining 1.5 metres away from other court users).
- Unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer, no hard copy documents, tender bundles or appearance slips may be handed up during an in-person hearing or court event.
- Bring your own water bottle as the Court will not provide water jugs or cups.
What if you need to test or isolate for COVID-19?
If experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or waiting for a test result, you must not attend court in person.
If you have been listed for an in-person hearing (or other court event like an interview with a court child expert), then you have to seek to be excused from in person attendance, ask to attend electronically, or if this isn’t possible, ask for an adjournment. This can be done by you or your legal representative emailing the court and all parties.
For further detail on court operations during the pandemic, please see the FCFCOA’s dedicated page for COVID-19 information here.
For help with a family law matter, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400. You can read our firm’s COVID-19 policy here.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.