Published: 28 June, 2021

Lighthouse Project - Update to the Profession June 2021

It is almost six months since the Court’s Lighthouse Project commenced operation, and during that time, it has been extremely well received and supported by the family law profession and litigants who have engaged with the project. The project team is however, keen to ensure that awareness continues to grow and practitioners communicate the benefits to their clients, such as targeted support and individualised case management that focuses on risk identification and safety.

Case Study # 3

A key aspect of the Evatt List is the ability to provide tailored case management to suit the needs of each parenting matter before the Court. The case study below outlines a recent matter in which early support and guidance through the Court process provided a positive outcome for a family.

Facts

The Applicant filed an Initiating Application seeking a recovery order of a two year old child. After the competition of the risk screen and interview with a Family Counsellor, where high risk issues were identified, the matter was placed on the Evatt List and allocated an urgent interim hearing date 11 days after filing.

Outcome

Due to tailored case management of the matter the following steps were taken:

  • Referrals were made to external agencies to support the parties,
  • Early information was gathered by the Court from co-located officials such as Child Safety and the Queensland Police Service, and
  • An Independent Children’s Lawyer was appointed.

At the urgent interim hearing, with the aid of an oral report from a Family Consultant, coupled with assistance from the Independent Children’s Lawyer and co-located official, the parties reached interim consent orders and the child was returned to the Applicant the same day. The matter was then assessed as suitable to be referred to Family Dispute Resolution (FDR). With the assistance of FDR the parties were able to reach a final child focussed agreement. By utilising the early information gathered and ensuring all parties were informed of the high risk issues in the matter, the Court was able to support the parties in reaching a child focussed final agreement within four months of filing.

Project FAQs

The Project recently met with key stakeholders to provide an update on the Pilot and discuss their experiences with the Pilot. Below is a summary of the themes and questions that were covered.

What if a client has concerns that their phone/email is under surveillance by a former partner or other party?

The Project, and online risk screening application and communications, were developed knowing that this is a common form of coercive control and domestic and family violence. The following features and information are embedded in the Pilot to ensure parties who are invited to screen can do so as safely as possible:

  • Communications include information about being safe online and alternative ways to complete the risk screen if the litigant does not wish to do so on their own device.
  • The online web application includes a timeout function after inactivity, has the ‘back button’ on the browser disabled, and automatically logs out the user at the completion of the risk screen and it cannot be accessed again.
  • Access to the risk screen is for a finite period, at which time the risk screen ‘expires’ and the litigant must contact the Court to access again.

The Project encourages legal representatives to speak with the client about risk screening. Clients can also create a secondary email address for the purpose of risk screening which could also be used for the service of Court documents throughout the proceedings if a client’s email is compromised.

What if my client raises concerns about the confidentiality of the risk screen?

Part IIA Family Law Act 1975prevents the disclosure and admission into evidence information connected with risk screening. This part provides that:

  • a party cannot be asked to disclose whether or not they undertook risk screening
  • the risk screen responses, classification and referrals as a result of the screening process cannot be used as evidence in a proceeding (i.e. subpoenaed), and
  • information shared or provided by a party to a family counsellor in the course of conducting risk screening cannot be disclosed, or used as evidence.

While there are some exceptions required by law as usually applied, such as imminent risk to a child, these provisions ensure that parties are able to freely and confidently participate in the family safety risk screening process, without fear that the information they provide may be used against them in other contexts.

What type of referrals are being made during triage interviews?

Referrals to the Family Advocacy and Support Service (FASS) for both legal and family violence support have been the most common referral made, however, the referrals are being made to a suite of support services - for both men and women. The Pilot has observed that litigants that are not linked in with services would really benefit from structured management support – such as FASS. Current feedback indicates that a majority of litigants do pursue these services.

Does early information gathering actually assist Evatt list matters?

Yes, early information gathering is producing valuable information for the first court events and assists the Senior Registrars at the first interim hearings. Early feedback indicates that due to the information gathered and provided so early in the matter, the Court is more informed about the parties and results in safe Orders being made.

When will the Evaluation conclude?

The Project’s formal evaluation commenced in early May and is expected to conclude in July 2021. Further updates about progress and recommendations will be provided in due course.

Where can I get more information?

The Lighthouse Project Team is available to deliver information sessions to your organisation. We have a suite of presentations on:

  • The Lighthouse Project – general overview
  • Family DOORS Triage – a detailed look at the Family DOORS Triage risk screening process
  • The Evatt List – a detailed presentation on Evatt List case management
  • We can also tailor presentations to suit your organisation and any audience. If you would like to know more contact Elizabeth Evans, Project Manager via LighthouseProject@federalcircuitcourt.gov.au.

The Family DOORS Triage risk screening and case management - Information sheet for parties is also available translated into the following languages: