Corporate Plan 2017 - 2018
The three courts and the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) undertake regular reviews of their operating environment, challenges and risks to determine performance goals and operational plans each year. A review of the external environment suggests that the key environmental drivers during the period of this plan are government policy, technological change, globalisation and free trade, and social and economic change.
The work of the courts and the NNTT is influenced by government policy and legislative change. These changes are outside of our control and can impact the volume and type of workloads, and jurisdiction. As a result, we need the agility to structure resources and systems to ensure we can respond to change in the most cost effective way.
Recent examples of how this impacts the courts include: the establishment of Parenting Management Hearings; the funding of additional family consultants and registrars to facilitate speedier resolution of family law cases involving vulnerable parties; a successful New Policy Proposal submission against the sustainability fund; and the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the courts and the Attorney-General’s Department for a trial of additional registrar positions to triage matters involving cases of family violence (Family Court) and enforcement (Federal Circuit Court).
Forward estimates project a deficit economy for the next financial year. Ongoing budget cuts and the drive for greater public sector efficiencies and accountability, in conjunction with each courts’ objective to provide enhanced access to justice, will result in the need to deliver more services at a reduced cost or the same cost. This will require significant management and prioritisation of resourcing over the next four years.
The decision of the Full Court in McGlade v Native Title Registrar  FCAFC 10 had a short-term impact on the Native Title Registrar’s ability to notify and register area Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs). This was remedied by amendments to the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) which passed through Parliament in June 2017, however some additional issues arising from the McGlade decision may impact the operations of the NNTT going forward.
The courts and the NNTT have an ongoing commitment to relentless improvement, with many programs to improve efficiency already in place. For the courts, these programs encompass changes to the way that cases are managed and provision of alternative dispute resolution processes, in addition to technological innovations.
Technological change continues to play a significant role in driving strategy. Whilst technological advances have provided opportunities to improve the experience of court users and automate processes and increase efficiency, they have also created significant pressure on our ability to resource and fund ongoing development.
The introduction of the Government’s Digital Transformation Agenda and the creation of the Digital Transformation Agency will guide how we structure and develop future services for court users. The agenda provides standards for digital development, as well as a goal to create public services that are ‘simple, clear, faster and customer-centric’. The courts and the NNTT are already on the path to achieve this goal and further work will be conducted over the life of this plan.
Mobile technologies are fast becoming the key drivers of technological change for the courts and the NNTT, however as the use of digital technologies increases, we will need to achieve a balance with our statutory obligations. Additional challenges include accuracy, data security and timeliness of information provided through these platforms. The amalgamated corporate services model is an opportunity to pool our knowledge to identify and apply the best of breed technology.
The pace of technological change and innovation creates opportunities for us to improve the experience of court users across multiple platforms.
Further digital innovation is anticipated over the life of this plan with additional funding to support the evolvement of the digital court program and the introduction of artificial intelligence projects to facilitate improvements in service delivery, consolidation of services and reductions in cost. Our challenge is to capitalise on these opportunities as the lifecycle of new technologies continues to become shorter.
Globalisation and free trade
The growth of globalised trade and continued growth in the economies and societies within our region impacts on the work of the Federal Court of Australia (FCA). This economic, commercial and social change needs to be matched by strengthening and deepening the rule of law and of the mechanisms for its regional and transnational enforcement. It will require new and more sophisticated structures to strengthen the region’s court systems and strengthening and deepening of its arbitral systems and related dispute resolution mechanisms.
The expansion of Free Trade Agreements beyond those with China and Japan and the increase in commercial activity has the potential to increase the number of disputes.
On 25 May 2017 the Government introduced into Parliament the Government Procurement (Judicial Review) Bill 2017, to meet World Trade and Trans-Pacific Partnership obligations. If passed, the legislation will give the FCA and Federal Circuit Court (FCC) jurisdiction to order compensation and grant injunctions for contraventions by Commonwealth entities of the Commonwealth Procurement Rules (subject to a relatively low threshold). There are a large number of procurements made by Commonwealth entities in any year, so the potential workload from this jurisdiction is significant.
Social and economic change
The expectations and types of court users, clients and stakeholders are expected to change significantly over the next four years. With the ongoing development of ‘big data’, tailored services and communications, convenience and personalisation are now expected by the stakeholder groups serviced by the courts and the NNTT. Whilst technology provides a lower cost option to meet this need, defining stakeholder needs and developing tailored responses creates significant workload.
Business, government and commercial organisations also expect the legal profession to conduct business with them electronically. The courts and the NNTT need to position themselves to continue to respond to this expectation and identify the most effective technology platform to address their needs. For the FCC and NNTT, this also includes maintaining a balance between leveraging the benefits of technology to improve access, but also ensuring it meets the needs of clients in remote areas where access to technology can be not only cost prohibitive, but more importantly, inaccessible in some areas.
The work of the courts has also been impacted by economic and social change. For example, workloads for judges have increased as a result of increases in unrepresented litigants and, in the FCA, class actions. In addition, the FCC has seen a significant rise in migration filings that is placing a strain on the Court. This trend is expected to continue over the four years of the plan.
For the NNTT, a continuing impact is the increase in the determination of native title claims. This has placed greater emphasis on the challenges facing Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBC) and how native title holders can leverage economic development from the recognition of their native title rights and interests. Compensation claims have also increased in number, following the FCA decision in Griffiths v Northern Territory of Australia(No 3)  FCA 900. Further, as the resolution of native title claims in settled areas proceeds, tenure analysis is becoming increasingly complex. The NNTT has been actively involved in assisting stakeholders to identify more efficient and timely ways to capture and analyse current and historical tenure.
There is a growing community awareness and focus on matters involving family violence and allegations of child abuse that impact on the Family Court of Australia (FCoA) and the FCC.
Cases involving mental illness and substance abuse have also increased, as have cases relating to international family law (including Hague Convention abduction matters and the 1996 Protection Convention), as well as medical procedures for which court approval is required. These are complex matters that present strategic challenges for each court.