The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia has a strong and ongoing commitment to engaging with courts in the Asia-Pacific to promote access to justice for family law litigants in the region.
The Court’s international engagement is guided by the Advisory Group on International Collaboration in Family Law (Advisory Group). The members of the Advisory Group are Chief Justice Alstergren, Deputy Chief Justice McClelland, Justice Ryan (Chair), Justice Austin, Justice Williams, Judge Boyle, Leisha Lister (Law and Development Partners) and Cate Sumner (Law and Development Partners). See also: the Advisory Group Terms of Reference.
As Australia’s superior court in family law, the Court seeks to share its expertise with Australia’s closest neighbours, in assisting litigants and their representatives to solve the most complex of family disputes in accordance with the rule of law, and in a prompt, courteous and effective manner.
The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia is known for its leadership in the Asia-Pacific region and for many years has worked closely with international courts and other stakeholders to develop expertise in family violence. Other significant areas of development include; working with vulnerable witnesses, child protection, integrated service approaches, and access to justice for women and children.
2019 marked 15 years of the Court’s judicial cooperation in the region which began with the Court’s engagement with the Supreme Court of Indonesia and other Indonesian Courts. Since then, the Court’s collaboration with courts in the region has expanded to include courts in the following countries:
- Hong Kong
The Court regularly engages with courts in the region through the delivery of seminars, hosting of delegations to Australia and visits to other jurisdictions, as well as working with providers to deliver specific programs on family law and family violence.
Some of the Court’s recent initiatives with Indonesia, Fiji and Vietnam are highlighted below.
Highlights of the Court’s initiatives in Indonesia
The Court was the first foreign court to engage with Indonesia’s Religious Courts, and in December 2020 the Court signed a further memorandum of understanding with the Supreme Court of Indonesia to continue our collaboration in the area of family law.
In December 2019, the Court hosted a delegation led by Dr. H. Aco Nur, S.H.,M.H., the Director General of Badilag (the administrative agency that oversees Religious Courts and High Religious Courts) and including judges from the Religious Courts and from the Supreme Court of Indonesia.
Over the course of the visit, the Court shared its experience with a number of areas including, the application of the best interests and the voice of the child in family law cases, and special measures provided to vulnerable litigants. Guidelines for hearing applications for maintenance, child custody and marriage dispensation cases were also explored.
Judges from the Court have travelled to Indonesia on a number occasions, with a focus on improving the quality of outcomes in cases involving women and children related to domestic violence, marriage legalisation cases, disputes involving custody and maintenance of children, and other matters. Important visits have included Justice Ryan’s May 2019 visit to Aceh to meet with judges of the Acehnese religious courts, and Justice Cleary’s March 2019 visit to Jakarta for a workshop regarding the application of laws related to age limits for young people to marry.
Highlights of the Court’s initiatives in Fiji
The Court in recent years has continued its focus on judicial education in Fiji. In May 2019, Glenda Frew, judgment publications officer, conducted a workshop with Fijian family law registrars, providing tuition on the anonymisation of judgments in readiness for their publication.
In June 2019, Justice Austin attended a two-day judicial conference in Fiji to provide further education to the Fijian judiciary about judgment writing and the anonymisation of family law judgments. The conference coincided with the official launch of the Fijian family law judgments on the PACLii and Fijian judiciary websites. Prior to this, no Fijian family law judgments had been published, either electronically or in print.
Highlights of the Court’s initiatives in Vietnam
In its most recent chapter, the Court’s initiatives in Vietnam have focussed on children’s rights to complement the national roll-out of the Family and Juvenile Court to 38 provinces in Vietnam since 2016.
In June 2019 in partnership with UNICEF, Justices Stevenson and Ryan travelled to Hanoi to deliver workshops over two days regarding the Best Interests of the Child and children’s contact with the justice system. The workshop included online training delivered by Justices Stevenson and Ryan and Child Justice expert Shelley Casey, which was broadcast to an estimated 16,000 judges and court officials in 800 locations across Vietnam. The second day of the workshop was introduced by the Chief Justice of the Supreme People’s Court of Vietnam, Nguyen Hoa Binh, and included presentations by Justices Stevenson and Ryan on topics including the Best Interests of the Child where allegations of family violence or child abuse are raised.
Adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Court successfully shifted its focus to engaging with courts in the region through remote access technology. The Court has engaged with judicial peers through Zoom meetings and webinars, with a key focus on supporting regional Courts to adapt to the changes brought on by the pandemic.
As one such initiative, in May 2020, Justice Ryan participated in an online webinar for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) about the ‘Continued functioning of the Court system for children and women’ which focused on how high income countries have successfully managed the disruption to the justice system and maintained continuity of child justice services during the pandemic. The webinar was part of a series of online events with the International Association of Youth and Family Judges and Magistrates and included child justice experts and senior officials from Government and Courts from Albania, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Switzerland, and the USA. The event had 177 participants from 63 countries across the globe.
The Court’s initiatives are delivered in conjunction with providers including Law and Development Partners and the Australian Indonesia Partnership for Justice. Funding to the Court for the international program is provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department.
Some of the Court’s international initiatives have been the subject of publications which are provided below.
Women and Children’s Access to the Formal Justice System in Vanuatu (December 2015 – August 2016)
Decision analysis of marriage dispensation [child marriage] cases in Indonesia , Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice (AIPJ) November 2019
What about the children: Improving outcomes for a million Indonesian children affected by divorce each year , Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice (AIPJ) November 2019
Increasing access to justice for women, the poor and those living in remote areas: An Indonesian case study . World Band Justice for the Poor Briefing Notes. March 2011.