Published: 06 August, 2021

Lighthouse Project - Update to the Profession July 2021

The Lighthouse Project focuses on public health by assisting families that have experienced family violence, and/or other safety concerns, to navigate the family law system with tailored case management specifically designed for each family and their circumstances. Over the last 6 months of operation within the Federal Circuit Court, and over 130 interim hearings conducted by Senior Registrars in the Evatt List, the Project is beginning to make key observations:

  • Clients are usually very happy to complete the risk screen questionnaire in order to raise their concerns with the Court.
  • 7 out of 10 eligible filings have at least one party complete the risk screen.
  • The Evatt List is already seeing positive, safe resolutions. In Case Study #4 by virtue of the parties completing the risk screen the Court was able to identify risk factors and focus on the needs of the parties and children. Whilst on the Evatt List this matter was closely managed by the Senior Registrar to ensure that this family was provided with appropriate resources to support their safety and wellbeing. Further, with the assistance of a highly skilled team of Evatt list Registrars and Senior Registrars, Family Counsellors/Consultants and Court staff coupled with intensive and tailored case management the parties were able to settle by consent on extensive long term, safe and suitable parenting orders within 6 months of filing.

Case Study # 4

Facts

An unrepresented litigant filed an application for interim and final orders seeking recovery of a child. At the same time the litigant received an invitation to complete the Family DOORS Triage screen and completed the screen within 48 hours which was identified as high risk. The litigant participated in an interview with a family counsellor 2 days later. During this interview multiple risk factors were raised such as relocation, serious family violence and risk of harm to the children, it was noted that Department intervention was imminent. The matter was then referred to the Evatt list in recognition of the high risk factors in the case 10 days after filing.

Outcome

The matter received tailored case management as follows:

  • Matter was initially directed to the Evatt list 10 days after filing and Chambers orders were issued allocating an interim hearing date and appointing an Independent Children’s Lawyer. Orders for subpoenas to various agencies and s69zw orders to gather information from state agencies were also made.
  • Matter was listed for an interim hearing within a month in recognition of the risk present. The earlier Child Dispute Conference Memorandum, attendance of Department representatives and presentation of all the information assisted the Court to focus on the needs of the child and clarified which risk issues were most important. At the delivery of the interim judgment orders were made for the children to spend time with the respondent in a safe way.
  • Trial Directions were issued and a trial date set.
  • Matter settled by consent 2 months prior to trial with the parties indicating that the provision of information and ventilating of issues through the case management process greatly assisted them to understand and narrow the issues in dispute and come to safe and appropriate orders.

Through the litigant completing the risk screen and by self-identifying risk, the Court was able to allocate this matter to the most appropriate case management pathway, the Evatt List. As a result of early information gathering and by drawing upon the resources and support of the Evatt list this encouraged the parties to settle by consent safely and with suitable parenting orders.

Benefits of Risk screening

As detailed above, by completing the questionnaire it enables the Court to identify the most appropriate pathway for each individual matter. Not only does it assist in identifying any serious concerns a client might have but it also identifies any extra assistance needed to manage those concerns.

Practitioners can encourage their clients to screen confidentially by discussing the risk screen questionnaire with them prior to filing their Initiating Application or Response and the associated benefits.

“I loved the questionnaire – the way it asked ‘can I do this, or this’ (ie can I go to the GP, or ask friends or family for help etc).  Its prompted me to do the things I wanted to do. It was really helpful” – Litigant, May 2021

What if my client does not have access to a computer?

The Family DOORS Triage questionnaire can be completed safely through a computer, mobile or tablet. The Court acknowledges that not all clients have access to suitable computers or devices. If your client does not feel safe completing the screen through their own device, or does not have access to a device, the questionnaire can be completed on a dedicated iPad in the pilot registry (subject to any COVID-19 restrictions). To make an appointment to complete the questionnaire please contact the National Enquiry Centre via the details below:
NEC Phone:        1300 352 000
Email:                  enquiries@familylawcourts.gov.au
Live Chat:            http://www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au/livechat

How can I ensure my client is able to complete the risk screen?

All eligible clients are invited for inclusion within the Project via email and this is an automatic process so long as the client’s personal email is provided at the time of filing. This will assist your client in completing the questionnaire at the earliest opportunity. If privacy concerns prevent the provision of your client’s email address and phone number, legal representatives can elect for their client’s contact details to not be disclosed.

The Court will write to legal representatives requesting contact details if they have not been provided. Paragraph 14 of Practice Direction 3 of 2020 (Amended 14 May 2021) directs legal representatives to provide their client’s contact details within twenty-four hours of being requested to do so or provide an explanation of why they are unable to comply.

Project Updates

Access Code Extension

On 21 July 2021, the access code expiry length was changed from 5 days to 10 days.

When clients are invited to complete the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire, they are given a unique Case ID number and access code (similar to a username and password). When the access code is issued, it is only valid for five days before expiring.

This change has been made to alleviate added emotional stress clients can experience when engaging in litigation and allows clients to complete the screening process in multiple sittings if required.

The Project team encourages you to discuss with your client the importance of completing the risk screen at the earliest opportunity to better assist the Court in supporting the parties and directing the matter to its most appropriate court pathway.

Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Commencement

The Project has commenced planning in readiness for the beginning of the new Court: the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCoA) and any specific updates or changes related to the Project will be communicated via this newsletter. The Project will not be disrupted by any changes to the Courts and the Project will continue to be fully supported within the FCFCoA.

Further information

The Federal Circuit Court of Australia’s Practice Direction No. 3 of 2020 – Lighthouse Project and Evatt List sets out the procedure for family law proceedings involved in the Lighthouse Project. Information on other dispute resolution options is available from the website of the Family Relationships Centres and from the Courts’ website.

You can contact the Court for assistance in the following ways: