Senior judicial registrars, judicial registrars and deputy registrars each undertake key roles in the operation of the family law jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the Court). Although each of these roles existed in the former Family Court and Federal Circuit Court, they now play an enhanced role in the case management pathway of the new court.
All registrars exercise certain delegated judicial powers. All registrars can also make orders with the consent of the parties, and hold a range of additional powers. A table outlining each of the powers that can be exercised by senior judicial registrars and judicial registrars can be found in Schedule 4 to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021.
In exercising this delegated power, senior judicial registrars, judicial registrars and deputy registrars undertake specific and appropriate roles and duties, usually arising in the earlier stages of proceedings, many of which would otherwise fall to the judges of the Court, thus alleviating some of the burden on judges, enabling them to direct significantly more of their time to the hearing and determination of complex interim applications and final hearings. A number of registrars also operate in national operational roles, or in appeals, supporting appeals judges and dealing with procedural aspects of appeals proceedings. The various roles undertaken by registrars are outlined in more detail below.
Senior judicial registrars
The primary role played by senior judicial registrars is presiding over interim hearings and determining interlocutory applications. Although senior judicial registrars cannot determine applications on a final basis in most circumstances, they hold a wide range of powers in relation to the determination of interlocutory applications. The powers delegated to senior judicial registrars include the following (in summary); the power to:
- make interim parenting orders
- make parenting orders in undefended proceedings
- make interim property orders
- make property orders in undefended proceedings
- vary or set aside property orders
- make orders for spousal or de facto maintenance
- make orders for child maintenance (including adult child maintenance)
- make location orders and recovery orders
- make orders for enforcement of parenting or financial orders
- grant injunctions until further order or in undefended proceedings, and
- summarily dismiss a proceeding.
Senior judicial registrars generally determine substantive interim matters if there is no agreement between the parties. Common examples include the parenting arrangements for children pending final hearing, whether spousal maintenance is payable between the parties, and matters such as whether a property is to be sold prior to the final hearing. In addition to the powers outlined above, senior judicial registrars hold all of the powers held by judicial registrars, which are outlined below. Senior judicial registrars also conduct internal dispute resolution events, helping parties in property or parenting matters to resolve their disputes by agreement, without the need for further litigation.
The powers held by judicial registrars are often focused on the procedural aspects of a proceeding and case management. Judicial registrars generally preside over Duty Lists and Directions Hearings and perform a triage, assessment and case management role of the proceedings that come before them. Orders commonly made by judicial registrars include orders for the preparation of expert reports (such as reports relating to children’s best interests, or property valuation reports), orders for the exchange of relevant documents, and orders relating to the future listings of a proceeding. Judicial registrars will also regularly determine disputes relating to the release of subpoenaed documents in a proceeding.
The powers delegated to judicial registrars include the following (in summary); the power to:
- make parenting orders in undefended proceedings (in certain circumstances)
- make property orders in undefended proceedings (in certain circumstances)
- make, discharge, vary or suspend orders for spousal or de facto maintenance (in certain circumstances)
- make location orders
- make costs orders, including orders for security for costs
- make a range of procedural and case management orders
- dispense with the requirements of service
- appoint an independent children’s lawyer
- make orders in relation to subpoenas, and
- direct parties to attend upon a court child expert.
Judicial registrars are often experienced mediators who conduct the vast majority of the Court’s internal dispute resolution events, helping parties in property or parenting matters to resolve their disputes by agreement, without the need for further litigation.
Deputy registrars are a type of judicial registrar who are approved to exercise a more limited range of delegated powers, including the power to:
- make divorce orders in undefended proceedings
- make parenting and/or financial orders by consent of the parties
- make a range of procedural and case management orders, and
- dispense with the requirements of service.
In the Court, deputy registrars are primarily responsible for conducting divorce hearings, considering applications for consent orders, and undertaking various registrar duty work, such as reviewing applications for urgency. Certain deputy registrars, who are trained and approved to do so, may also conduct some of the Court’s internal dispute resolution events, for example a conciliation conference arising from a small property pool matter, helping such parties to resolve their disputes by agreement, without the need for further litigation.