In the final edition the Lighthouse Project Update for 2021, this edition will focus on the Evatt List and includes a Q & A with Evatt List Senior Judicial Registrars and Judicial Registrars to address the most common questions that the Court has received about the Lighthouse Project.
The Evatt List
The Evatt List, as a specialised Court list, has been developed and implemented to assist families that have been identified as being at high risk of family violence and other associated risks.
One of the key objectives of the Evatt List is to ensure families who have been identified as being at high-risk are provided with appropriate resources to support them and provide safeguards around risk while closely managing the matter as it progresses through the Court system. An additional benefit of having a dedicated and specialised list is that critical and in-depth information is gathered and collated from a variety of resources (such as police, child welfare organisations and Court Child Experts) which helps to identify important issues for the first court event, and throughout the course of the matter. As outlined in a media release recently published by the Court, New court initiatives help uncover higher prevalence of family violence and other risks, the Project has greatly assisted the Court to identify that around 50% of matters contain four or more major risk factors, this is in addition to previous court data indicating that approximately 80% of family law cases allege at least one major risk factor being prevalent.
The following case study outlines how the Evatt List can provide support and highlights the benefits that tailored case management can bring to both the matter in general, and to the parties involved.
Case Study # 7
The Applicant filed an urgent Initiating Application in relation to the parties’ child. The Applicant completed the Family DOORS Triage Risk screen and attended an interview with the Family Counsellor within a week of filing the Application. The Family Counsellor identified that coercive controlling violence, substance abuse concerns and the impact of such upon the child were substantial risk factors in the matter.
The matter was carefully reviewed by the Evatt List Judicial Registrar and placed on the Evatt List. In the tailored case management of the matter the following actions were taken:
The matter was listed for interim hearing before a Senior Judicial Registrar
- Child Impact Report was ordered
- Information was gathered by the Court from Police and Child Welfare authorities, and
- An Independent Children’s Lawyer was appointed.
In the Applicant’s cover letter seeking urgency, the Applicant requested the matter be dealt with as quickly as possible, and upon being advised of the matter being placed on the Evatt List, the Applicant provided the following feedback: ‘This Order is a true pathway to an immediate period of not just increased calm, but very possibly increased care.’
By quickly and proactively managing the matter from the point of being placed on the Evatt List and gathering information prior to the first Court event, rather than during the course of the proceedings, the Court was able to stem the Applicant’s fears of long drawn-out proceedings, confirming to the Applicant that the matter would progress through the Court in the safest way possible.
Q & A with Evatt List Judicial Registrars
What is the role of an Evatt Judicial Registrar?
The Evatt List Judicial Registrar will triage matters where at least one party has screened and participated in an interview with a Family Counsellor, and will determine whether the matter is appropriate for the Evatt List using the criteria in the Lighthouse Practice Direction. When a matter has been placed on the Evatt List the Judicial Registrars then closely case manage the parenting matters that have been identified as high risk. In doing so, it is always necessary to have regard to the principles and goals of the Lighthouse Project and Evatt List but also to draw on personal experience and knowledge of, in particular, family violence in all its forms. The role requires them to utilise all the information gathering tools available to them to ensure that when the matter is heard on an interim basis, the best information is available to the Court to make an informed and safe decision, with no stones unturned.
As an Evatt List Judicial Registrar, what would you like parties and the profession to know about the Evatt List?
The Evatt List is not necessarily a means to obtain a quicker outcome for your client. It is a process that will allow your client to be truly heard, through careful case management and a proactive approach to information gathering. The Evatt List Judicial Registrar retains the matter from the time it is designated to the Evatt List until, at least the interim hearing, and leading up to the compliance hearing. The Judicial Registrar ensures that the matter progresses in a timely manner, while managing dynamic risk, and ensuring that all materials are filed, reports are released, and orders complied with. They also provide support and direction for the parties with anything they need done prior to the interim hearing.
Legal representatives can assist their clients by ensuring that from the very commencement of the matter all the resources and information you might anticipate requesting at a future listing, are identified. This information is vitally important for the Court to gain accurate information and better insight into the risk factors experienced by individual parties in each matter and ensure that appropriate orders are made.
How does the Evatt List take into account family safety risks?
The case management process is largely undertaken in Chambers and if an appearance is necessary, then it is likely to take place electronically via Microsoft Teams. An Evatt list Judicial Registrar will not make a consent order if they are not satisfied that it addresses the family violence and/or family safety risk considerations outlined in the documents. Safety plans can be put in place and practitioners should be diligent in seeking those on behalf of their client. We understand that risk comes in many forms, both overt and covert, and are alive to steps that may need to be taken to prevent both, for example case managing to avoid or control systems abuse.
Q & A with Evatt List Senior Judicial Registrars
What makes the Evatt case management approach different?
The Evatt List is the Court’s specialist high risk list named in honour of Elizabeth Evatt, the first Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia. The Evatt List uses intensive case management and additional resources to respond to cases with risk factors including family violence, high conflict, substance misuse, mental health and child abuse. That case management starts before the first court date so that the Judge or Senior Judicial Registrar hearing the interim application has the information they need to make safe and appropriate orders.
I have an urgent Court date and my matter has been placed on the Evatt List. Can it still be heard urgently?
Evatt matters can be heard urgently but, in line with Evatt list case management principles and Central Practice Direction – Family Law Case Management, the Evatt List Judicial Registrar will assess the timing of the first hearing date based on the risk factors in the case.
What can parties and legal representatives expect from the first Evatt List court date?
The list is focussed on the safety of children and their parents and families. Before the interim hearing takes place, the parties should have reviewed material from police and the child welfare authority gathered pursuant to section 69ZW Family Law Act 1975, or relevant State legislation, any subpoena material and the other parties’ material. The risk issues should be clearly defined so that they can look for areas of agreement (and those still in dispute) and come to the hearing with draft orders reflecting what is agreed or the issues that will need to be determined. Those orders should include strategies to mitigate risk, for example, does time spent with the child need to be supervised or is a safe changeover adequate to protect the parties’ safety? The first Court date will always run and therefore practitioners and parties must be prepared. There is dedicated time allocated for each interim hearing, nonetheless discussions should take place before the hearing. The Senior Judicial Registrar will have read the material and will expect the parties to indicate what needs determination and the alternative orders, to limit any need for adjournment.
Lighthouse Project Christmas/ New Year Operations
The Lighthouse Project will continue to be operational during the Christmas/New Year period to allow for risk screen questionnaires to be sent to eligible filing parties.
Evatt List listings will pause over the Christmas period and resume back on a limited basis through January 2022 and will be managed by each pilot site registry in accordance with that pilot registry’s normal operations.
Evatt listings will resume in full from February 2022. Any correspondence with regards to Evatt matters should continue to be sent to the relevant Evatt Case Manager email address.
Further information about the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Registry opening hours can be found here.
Lighthouse Project Update Newsletter
The Lighthouse Project Update newsletter will be recommencing in February 2022.The Project looks forward to communicating all important updates, changes and developments in 2022.
You can contact the Court for assistance in the following ways: