Published: 01 June, 2023

Media Release: International recognition for the Court’s world-leading Lighthouse initiative

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia’s Lighthouse initiative, a unique and innovative approach to better identify and manage cases involving family violence and other risks to families, has been acknowledged at an international level.

The internationally respected Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) has selected Lighthouse as this year’s recipient of the Irwin Cantor Innovative Program Award. The award was presented at a ceremony held in Los Angeles, USA on 31 May 2023.

The Honourable Chief Justice Will Alstergren AO said that over the past five years or so, our Courts have been determinedly focused on reviewing, creating and changing all aspects of the court process to ensure that they deliver a timely, efficient and, importantly, a safe experience for all litigants.

“Innovation is at the forefront of our approach to change. For many years people were calling for change in the family law system and we have worked hard to deliver that transformation. It is pleasing that this work has now been recognised by members of a worldwide association of family and conciliation Courts.”

“I congratulate the many people who have played a significant role in the creation of Lighthouse which is now embedded within Court processes, and is clearly a ground-breaking approach to identifying risk in family law Courts internationally,” Chief Justice Alstergren said.

The Lighthouse initiative seeks to ensure that family safety risks are identified early and managed effectively from the point of filing. Lighthouse ensures that all families will receive support that is targeted for their circumstances. The process begins with the confidential Family DOORS Triage risk screen questionnaire, which is provided to litigants immediately after filing an Initiating Application or Response seeking parenting orders. If a matter is identified as high-risk, it is reviewed by a specialist Triage Counsellor (social scientists with significant experience in risk assessment and management) for referral to tailored support services, and to a specially trained Judicial Registrar for case management, including in the high-risk Evatt List.

Once assessed, the aim is to tailor the case management to fit the risk profile of each family, to help families resolve their disputes safely, or to progress matters to a priority hearing as quickly as possible.

Recently, in April, the Courts also received the Australian Alternative Dispute Resolution Award in recognition of the work done to integrate safe dispute resolution into the family law system, winning the Courts and Tribunals - Alternative Dispute Resolution Group of the Year.

Mr David Pringle, Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar said that these awards acknowledge the profound benefits that these changes have had on the many thousands of families that engage with the Courts each year, and will continue to have into the future.

“Courts have the reputation of being conservative, but in recent years, our Courts have thoroughly embraced change to ensure that safe and effective dispute resolution is available in family law disputes, and to address the considerable risk factors and complexities present in many parenting disputes.”

“I congratulate everyone who has been involved in both the dispute resolution and Lighthouse initiatives, and importantly the vision of Chief Justice Alstergren and his Honour’s enthusiasm to encourage and embrace innovation for the benefit of Australian families.” David Pringle said.

AFCC Board Member, Justice Tom Altobelli, said that the international award recognises the tireless work of the Judges and staff of the Courts who strive to create a system that prioritises the safety and welfare of children at the centre of family law disputes, and all people who come to Courts seeking resolution of their dispute.