Family Law Practice Direction – Lighthouse Project and Evatt List

(FAM-LHP)

1. Introduction

1.1 This Practice Direction sets out the procedure for Lighthouse Project-related family law proceedings filed in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the Court).

1.2 It is to be read together with:

  1. the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (as amended by the Family Law Amendment (Risk Screening Protections) Act 2020) (Family Law Act);
  2. the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 (Family Law Rules);
  3. Central Practice Direction – Family Law Case Management.

1.3 This Practice Direction applies to Lighthouse proceedings. Lighthouse proceedings are defined as proceedings:

  1. involving parenting issues only;
  2. filed in one of the pilot sites – Adelaide, Brisbane or Parramatta; and
  3. filed after the date of commencement of the Lighthouse Project at the relevant pilot site (see paragraph 2.4) (Lighthouse proceedings).

1.4 The commencement dates, unless otherwise formally announced by the Court, for the Lighthouse Project are:

  1. Adelaide – 7 December 2020;
  2. Brisbane – 11 January 2021; and
  3. Parramatta – 11 January 2021.

1.5 Any other proceeding that does not meet the criteria of a Lighthouse Proceeding in paragraph 1.3 will be conducted in accordance with the Court’s case management pathway as outlined in Central Practice Direction – Family Law Case Management.

1.6 This Practice Direction applies to all proceedings commenced on or after 1 September 2021. This Practice Direction will also apply to all proceedings commenced prior to 1 September 2021, unless unfair or impractical to do so.

1.7 This Practice Direction revokes and replaces Practice Direction 3 of 2020: Lighthouse Project and Evatt List.

2. Family safety risk screening process

2.1 Parties should complete the Family DOORS Triage online risk screen (risk screen) as soon as possible after filing their initial Court documents in order to benefit from safety planning, service referrals and appropriate case management.

2.2 Parties in a Lighthouse proceeding will be asked to complete the risk screen via a confidential and secure online platform (accessible on a computer, tablet or mobile), and may also be referred to a family consultant.

2.3 Lawyers should discuss the importance of risk screening with their clients when providing advice.

Party’s personal contact details

2.4 In order to ensure that all parties complete the risk screen, parties and lawyers are requested to ensure that the party’s personal email address and mobile telephone number (personal contact details) are provided to the Court. This information can be provided on a confidential basis.

2.5 Unrepresented parties can provide their personal contact details when filing their Initiating Application (Family Law) or Response to Initiating Application on the Commonwealth Courts Portal.

2.6 Lawyers are directed to provide their client’s personal contact details when filing an Initiating Application (Family Law) or Response to Initiating Application on their behalf.

2.7 Where a party is represented and their lawyer has not provided their personal contact details, the lawyer will be contacted by the Lighthouse Project to obtain their client’s personal contact details for the purpose of the risk screening process via the online Personal Information Form.

2.8 The lawyer must, within 24 hours of receiving such a request, respond to the Lighthouse Project by email providing the personal contact details or alternatively, explaining why their client’s personal contact details have not or cannot be provided.

2.9 Personal contact details provided through the online Personal Information Form will be used solely for the purpose of providing a link to the risk screen. Further, personal contact details will be treated confidentially and will not be made available by the Court to the other party or parties in the proceeding.

3. Confidentiality and inadmissibility

3.1 Sections 10Q to 10W of the Family Law Act protect the confidentiality and inadmissibility of any information provided in response to the risk screen. This means that any information or documents obtained (whether orally or in writing) or generated, including whether or not a party to proceedings completed a risk screening, are:

  1. confidential; and
  2. cannot be used as evidence in Court (whether or not exercising federal jurisdiction); and
  3. cannot be requested by another party.

3.2 This protection also extends to reports prepared, recommendations made or referrals created by a family safety risk screening person, such as a Family Counsellor.

3.3 Disclosure or exceptions to the confidentiality and inadmissibility of family safety risk screening information is only permitted in very limited circumstances, including imminent risk of harm to a child or adult, or child abuse. Further details can be found on the Court’s website and Part IIA of the Family Law Act.

4. Case management options

4.1 Following consideration of the results of the risk screen, Lighthouse Project Judicial Registrars and Family Counsellors will consider and determine the most appropriate case management pathway, assisted by an Associate, Case Manager and Case Coordinator (triage and risk screening process).

4.2 Lighthouse proceedings will be directed into one of three case management pathways:

  1. High risk cases will be referred for immediate action with a Family Counsellor who will provide a tailored, clinical follow up, and then referred to an Evatt List Judicial Registrar for consideration to be placed onto the Evatt List.
  2. Moderate risk cases will be offered safety planning and service referrals as part of the secure online process and will be considered for a range of case management pathways. This may include court-ordered Family Dispute Resolution conducted internally by a specialised team or externally, to resolve or narrow the issues in dispute.
  3. Lower risk cases will be targeted for court-ordered Family Dispute Resolution internally or externally.

4.3 The pathway allocated will be determined taking into account:

  1. the results of the risk screen;
  2. any recommendations made by the Family Counsellor; and
  3. the Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk1 and any other Court documents filed.

4.4 The initial case management pathway allocation will be determined by reference to the information available at the time of the triage and risk screening process. Litigants can make arrangements to screen or re-screen if their circumstances change.

4.5 Further information about the three case management pathways under the Lighthouse Project can be found here.

5. Evatt List

5.1 The Evatt List is a specialist Court list which focuses on early information-gathering and intervention, involving active case management and aims to minimise the number of Court-run events for litigants to safeguard against family violence and other associated risks.

5.2 Only Lighthouse proceedings that have been determined as high risk through the risk screen are eligible for consideration in the Evatt List.

5.3 A Lighthouse proceeding may be allocated to the Evatt List if:

  1. one or more of the parties has completed the risk screen;
  2. the matter has been identified as high risk during the triage and risk screening process;
  3. one or more of the parties has participated in a session with a Family Counsellor; and
  4. the Evatt List Judicial Registrar has reviewed the matter and determined it is appropriate for the Evatt List.

5.4 When determining whether a matter is appropriate for the Evatt List, the Evatt List Judicial Registrar will consider whether the matter contains high risk features, including allegations of:

  1. serious abuse or risk of serious abuse of a child of the proceedings whether it be physical, psychological or neglect;
  2. serious family violence or risk of serious family violence by a party to the proceedings, whether this is physical, emotional/psychological or financial;
  3. exposure or risk of exposure to serious family violence by a party or a child;
  4. serious drug, alcohol or substance misuse which has caused harm or poses a risk of harm to a child or party;
  5. a party’s mental health issues which has caused harm or poses a serious risk of harm to themselves or others, including a child;
  6. a party who poses a potential risk of self-harm;
  7. recent threats or attempts to abduct a child; or
  8. recent threats to harm a child or another person relevant to the proceedings, such as a new partner.

5.5 Parties and lawyers with proceedings allocated to the Evatt List must read and be familiar with the Evatt List Guides for parties and lawyers.

5.6 Parties and lawyers are required to file any documents in accordance with the timeframes outlined in the Evatt List Guides.

6. Further information

6.1 For more information about the Lighthouse Project, including Family DOORS Triage platform, forms and guides, parties should refer to the Court’s website.

 

The Honourable Justice William Alstergren
Chief Justice (Division 1) | Chief Judge (Division 2)
Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia
Re-issued: 1 September 2021

Footnotes

1 The Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk is a form which must be filed by all parties in all applications for parenting orders. More information about the form can be found on the Court’s website at www.fcfcoa.gov.au.