Guide to Communications with Registry Staff

1. Introduction

1.1 This guide addresses when it may be appropriate to communicate with the Court's registry staff and should be read subject to any relevant order or direction given by the Court. To the extent applicable, this guide should also be read together with the Central Practice Note (CPN-1) and the Practice Notes for each National Practice Area ("NPA").

1.2 This guide does not comprehensively address how to communicate with chambers staff, which is instead covered by the Guide to Communications with Chambers Staff. That guide also contains a number of hypothetical case studies that may help to clarify how to communicate with the Court generally.

1.3 Where applicable, and where the context allows, references in this guide to a "party" or "parties" should be read to include:

  • any person communicating with the Court (or with others) on behalf of a party, including a party's legal representatives; and
  • a non-party (or someone communicating on a non-party's behalf) where the non-party has become involved or concerned in a proceeding or process within the Court.

2. "Registry staff"

2.1 There is a variety of staff employed within the Court to carry out administrative and other functions of the Court. Such staff include:

  • registrars - who support judges and provide procedural advice to clients and staff. Registrars may act in a judicial capacity (for instance, when presiding over a Corporations List, case managing proceedings or mediating) or in an administrative capacity (such as National Court Framework ("NCF") Registrars or Duty Registrars). Where a registrar is performing a judicial function, the communication principles relating to a judge and chambers staff, set out in the Guide to Communications with Chambers Staff, applies to a registrar and the staff assisting them;
  • client services staff, including those acting in a coordinating role (such as a Self-Represented Litigants Coordinator);
  • national client services staff, including those assisting the Principal Judicial Registrar & National Operations Registrar with first-instance and appeals-related work and those working in native title teams; and
  • other Court staff, including the Director of Public Information and Court librarians.

2.2 In broad terms, the above staff ("registry staff"), whether national or local, assist litigants in administrative and procedural areas, including the processing of Court documents, understanding Court fees, and dealing with inquiries from litigants, legal practitioners, the media and members of the public.

2.3 Other than when a matter comes before a judge or a judicial registrar for hearing, most of the parties' contact with the Court will be through registry staff. It is therefore important for parties to understand their responsibilities towards registry staff, and the limits of what registry staff can do to assist parties in a proceeding.

3. Guidance

3.1 When communicating with registry staff all parties should bear in mind the overarching purpose contained in the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976 (Cth) of facilitating the just resolution of disputes according to law as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible (see ss 37M and 37N). Effective communication with the registry is necessary in order to fulfil the overarching purpose, however, it is necessary to ensure that such communications do not compromise the Court's impartiality and integrity and are always respectful. Equally, it is important to ensure that communications are not made in a way that is unnecessarily burdensome to registry staff.

3.2 Parties should be mindful to refrain from any communications with registry staff that could unduly influence the decision-maker or inappropriately impact the litigation process. All court staff (including all registry staff) perform an important role in the administration of the Court's functions, and of justice, and they must always remain impartial.

3.3 As set out in paragraph 15.1 of the Central Practice Note, all parties are expected to communicate with each other, the Court and all court staff (including all registry staff) courteously. Rude, aggressive or other disrespectful behaviour towards registry staff will not be tolerated. Parties are also expected to cooperate with any requests or directions from registry staff.

3.4 In general, all communications with registry staff should be limited to matters relating to the court's practice and procedure, court process and general enquiries. It is also important to note that registry staff are, by law, not permitted to give you legal advice. Sometimes, even where information sought from registry staff is of a procedural or general nature, it may be that special circumstances preclude registry staff from providing further information (eg. where a suppression order has been made requiring that the names of parties not be published).

4. Appropriate communications with Registry staff

4.1 Whilst the list below is a non-exhaustive list and will depend on the relevant circumstances, it is generally appropriate for parties to communicate with registry staff in relation to the following kinds of matters:

(a) Operation of the Court

  • Information about the Court's practices and procedures, its practice notes, guides and general information on the Court's website;
  • Information about interpreters;
  • Information about listings, including how to have a case listed for hearing.

(b) Court forms and other Court documents

  • What court forms need to be used and where to find them on the Court's website;
  • Whether a form or other court document has been sufficiently completed and can be accepted for filing (for example, the registry can check that signatures and any relevant attachments are present). However, registry staff cannot advise about the substance of the document.

    (c) Filing court documents

  • Information on how to properly file a document (eg. electronically via eLodgment);
  • The status of a document that has been submitted for filing, including whether a document has been accepted for filing.

(d) Court fees

  • Whether court fees are applicable and how much an applicable fee may be and, if relevant, how to apply for an exemption or deferral from the payment of court fees.

(e) Where to obtain free legal advice

  • Basic information about legal aid / community legal centres (including contact details);
  • Information about Court-referrals for pro bono legal assistance under Division 4.2 of the Federal Court Rules 2011 (Cth).

(f) General case management

  • General information (but not legal advice) about the usual "case management" steps, such as mediation – eg the process involved in having a matter mediated by a judicial registrar or other mediator and how to request a mediation.

5. Inappropriate communications with Registry staff

5.1 Whilst the list below is a non-exhaustive list and will depend on the relevant circumstances, it is generally inappropriate for parties to communicate with registry staff in relation to the following kinds of matters:

(a) Seeking legal advice, or raising substantive legal issues, including:

(i) whether a specific claim should be commenced in the Court;

(ii) asking about the substantive content of a court document (such as asking what words to use or whether there is enough information in a draft of a court document);

(iii) asking for advice on what to say in Court;

(iv) asking what the decision or judgment of the Court might, or will, be in relation to a trial or an interlocutory application;

(v) asking when a specific decision or judgment is expected to be delivered (see paragraph 16.2 of the Central Practice Note for guidance in this regard);

(vi) asking for advice on the meaning of orders made by the Court.

(b) Asking for a recommendation of a particular lawyer to act on your behalf.

(c) Providing scandalous or vexatious documents or information to the registry.

(d) Providing "without prejudice" (ie. negotiation documents, offers to settle etc), or mixed "without prejudice" and "open" correspondence to the registry.

(e) Providing irrelevant or unnecessarily burdensome documents or information to the registry or sending "broadcast emails" that unnecessarily involve registry or chambers staff (when there is no appropriate reason for such staff to be included in the communication).

6. Further Information

6.1 Much of the information that can be provided by registry staff is also publicly available on the Court's website. It is recommended that parties consider the Court's website for any resources they seek prior to contacting the registry.

6.2 A wide range of information about practice and procedure in the Court is contained within the Court's Practice Notes, including the Court's guiding Practice Note on case management – the Central Practice Note; the NPA Practice Notes; and the General Practice Notes, including the:

6.3 A considerable amount of information is also freely available through the Commonwealth Courts Portal  / Federal Law Search. This includes information about what listings have occurred (or are scheduled to occur) and what documents have been filed in a proceeding, and access to a range of documents (including Court orders and judgments).

Contact Details for Registries

6.4 Where website information or other Court resources may be insufficient to answer an enquiry, parties may contact their local registry.