Corporate Plan 2018-2019
The three courts and the National Native Title Tribunal (Tribunal) 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 and social and economic change.
The work of the courts and the Tribunal is influenced by government policy and legislative change. These changes can impact the volume and type of workloads, and jurisdiction. As a result, the courts and the Tribunal agility to structure resources and systems, to ensure we can respond to change in the most cost effective way, is essential.
Significant structural change to the courts was announced by Government on 30 May 2018 which, subject to passage of legislation, will have a substantial impact on the Family Court of Australia (FCoA), Federal Circuit Court of Australia (FCC) and the Federal Court of Australia (FCA). The proposed reform includes the amalgamation of the FCoA and FCC into a single new ‘Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia’ and the establishment of a new Family Law Appeals Division in the FCA.
The structural change, designed to achieve a faster resolution of family law disputes, will be accompanied by a move to a streamlined entry for all federal family law matters, and a common case management approach and a harmonised set of rules, procedures and practices for the new court. Additional funding has been provided to assist the courts in the development of rules, procedures, practices and the case management approach.
The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) is currently conducting a wide ranging review into the family law system. The final report of the ALRC, due in March 2019, is likely to recommend significant reforms of relevance to the family law courts.
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 Government has signalled its intent to move forward on a range of proposed reforms to the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). In December 2017, the Attorney-General and Minister for Indigenous Affairs released an options paper, which canvassed recommendations from:
- the ARLC’s report on Connection to Country: Review of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth)
- the Council of Australian Government’s Investigation into Land Administration and Use, and
- the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations’ Technical Review of the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006.
The focus of the options paper is on reforms to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the native title system to resolve claims, better facilitate agreement-making around the use of native title land, and promote the autonomy of native title groups to make decisions about their land and to resolve internal disputes. The options canvass a new dispute resolution function for the Tribunal.
It is anticipated that a native title amendment bill will be tabled in Parliament in the latter part of 2018.
The courts and the Tribunal 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 resourcing and funding ongoing development.
The introduction of the Government’s Digital Transformation 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 Tribunal 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 Tribunal, however as the use of digital technologies increases, the courts and the Tribunal 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 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 changes necessitated by its intersection with the Government’s proposed structural reforms, the implementation of a digital file for family law proceedings 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.
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 Tribunal. 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 Tribunal 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 Tribunal, 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, judge's workloads 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.
The Tribunal continues to be impacted by 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)  FCA900. Further, as the resolution of native title claims in settled areas proceeds, tenure analysis is becoming increasingly complex. The Tribunal has been actively involved in assisting stakeholders to identify more efficient and timely ways to capture and analyse current and historical tenure.
Community awareness and focus on matters involving family violence and allegations of child abuse remains high, with resulting impacts on the FCoA and the FCC. Consideration of whether, and if so what, reforms to the family law system are necessary in relation to family violence and child abuse is one of the terms of reference of the ALRC’s review of the family law system.
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.