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Joint Practice Direction 1 of 2020 – Core Principles in the Case Management of Family Law Matters

The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (“the family law Courts”) have recently released a Joint Practice Direction which applies to all family law applications filed with the Courts. The Joint Practice Directions aims to standardise the practices between both Courts and achieve a more consistent approach to case management. There are 10 core principles.. A summarised version of the principles is below:

  1. Risk

This principle prioritises the safety of children, vulnerable parties and litigants. It also places an emphasis of appropriate handling of issues of risk and allegations of family violence.

  1. Parties, Lawyers and the Courts obligations and overarching purpose.

This principle focuses on achieving safe, just and efficient resolution of matters at a reasonable cost to parties (proportional to the circumstances of the case).

  1. Efficient and effective use of resources

This principle discusses the appropriate allocation of the Court’s judicial, registrar and family consultants when issues of risk are raised.

  1. Approach to case management

The Court wishes to ensure consistent case management, with early triaging of matters and the use of internal and external Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

  1. Importance of ADR

The Court encourages the use of appropriate ADR. Parties are expected to make a genuine attempt to resolve disputes before entering into litigation. The Court must not hear an application for parenting orders without a section 60I certificate being filed (unless a valid exception is present). If action does commence, parties are expected to be proactive in arranging times to participate in ADR and be prepared to consider reasonable settlement offers. Failures to do so may result in costs.

  1. Costs Consequences for failure to comply with orders

Non-compliance with Court Orders may attract cost consequences. This can include costs awarded against lawyers.

  1. Lawyers obligations about costs

Parties and their lawyers are expected to be sensible and reasonable about the cost of litigation. Costs should only be incurred if they are fair, reasonable and proportionate to the issues in dispute. Parties and their lawyers are expected to engage in cost budgeting and lawyers must regularly inform clients and the Court of the costs they have incurred and are likely to incur.

  1. Identifying and narrowing issues in dispute

Issues in the case are to be narrowed to those issues genuinely in dispute. This means parties are expected to:

  • make frank disclosure to assist the Court;
  • only bring applications to the Court if they are reasonably justifiable on the material available;
  • to negotiate prior to, and at court to narrow the issues in dispute; and
  • engage a single expert or assessor to assist in dispute resolution (if appropriate).

Costs consequences may occur if parties seek to reopen issues that have already been resolved or unnecessarily agitate issues.

  1. Preparation for hearings

Parties and their lawyers should be familiar with the issues being brought to the Court and should be prepared for final hearings in a timely manner. Parties must provide the Court with a considered and informed estimate of the expected time for the hearing, number of witnesses and the issues to be decided.

  1. Efficient and timely disposition of cases

Courts will act efficiently and effectively to finalise pending matters. Judgments will be delivered as soon as reasonably practicable after final submissions occur. When permitted by legislation, short form reasons may be used when appropriate to expedite the delivery of judgments.

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