Allocation of Judicial Matters under the NCF
Under the National Court Framework, the Federal Court has been progressively undertaking fundamental reforms as to the way it operates. The reforms have been successfully implemented in respect of the judicial works of the Court, including organising and managing the Court's work by reference to nine National Practice Areas (NPAs).
As of 2018, the reforms are extend to the work of the Registrars.
- Allocation principles
- National Practice Area (NPA) Judges and National Operations
National Practice Area Judges
National Coordinating Judges
Registry Coordinating Judges
Principal Judicial Registrar & National Operations Registrar and National Operations team
- Individual Docket System
Individual Docket System under the NCF
Objectives of the Individual Docket System
A key component of the National Court Framework (NCF) is the national allocation system for judicial matters. This national system ensures the consistent and appropriate allocation of judge-related matters and the effective management of the Court's judicial workload.
Under the new national allocation system, the work of the judges has been realigned to hear cases based on the individual docket system, taking into account workload management, National Practice Area (NPA) expertise and the character of matters filed.
Matters are allocated in rotation to judges in the NPA or Sub-area in the registry of the filing, subject to:
- the availability of judges in the NPA in the registry of filing
- considerations of balance of workload and commitments of judges
- the character of a matter calling for a different approach. However, this will only be in very limited circumstances.
The third of the above considerations focuses upon the character of the matter: Whether it is of such a character, including by reference to its importance or public interest, as to warrant the view that the administration of justice and the reputation of the Court require the choice of a judge of appropriate experience in the class of matter who is able to deal with the matter with appropriate despatch. If the Chief Justice or the National Operations Registrar is of the view that the matter should or may possibly be so characterised, the Chief Justice will consult with senior judges of the Court about that characterisation and any allocation. This procedure has been employed as described above since the commencement of the National Court Framework in 2014.
When filing, parties will nominate a relevant NPA (and Sub-area, if relevant). The nomination by the party is not determinative. Once a matter is filed, the Court will promptly review the matter and identify the appropriate NPA (and Sub-area). The identification by the Court may involve a question of judgment about the dominant character of the matter. The Court may, where appropriate, change the NPA (and Sub-area).
The matter will then be allocated to a Judge in the relevant NPA (and Sub-area), subject to any different allocation procedure specific to a NPA or area of law.
Examples of where different allocation procedures apply include:
- In Admiralty and Maritime (A&M) NPA proceedings:
Upon filing, the matter will be provisionally allocated to a A&M Registry Coordinating Judge in the registry where the matter was filed. That Judge will be responsible for case managing the proceeding until such time as the proceeding is allocated to a Docket Judge, who will then be responsible for case managing the proceeding, hearing and determining the matter
- In Class Actions:
Upon filing, the matter will be allocated to the Docket Judge. In appropriate cases, the matter may also be assigned to a Case Management Judge and/or a Class Actions Registrar.
- In Insurance matters:
The Chief Justice administers the Insurance List.
For each NPA there is a dedicated group of Judges, with expertise in the area of law, responsible for the case management and disposition of matters in the NPA.
The NPAs are managed nationally by National Coordinating Judges who are responsible for ensuring the smooth operation of the NPA. This involves:
- the development of consistent national practice across the Court in the NPA
- the ongoing development of a program of education for judges and the profession
- engagement and ongoing consultation with the profession, including establishing NPA Users Groups.
The National Coordinating Judges are assisted in the management of the NPA by one or more Registry Coordinating Judge in each registry.
Registry Coordinating Judges will ensure the smooth operation of the NPA in the registry.
The Principal Judicial Registrar & National Operations Registrar is responsible for ensuring the proper implementation of the NCF. This position is supported by the National Operations team, including the Deputy Principal Judicial Registrar & Deputy National Operations Registrar and National Registrars.
The National Operations team is responsible for the design, implementation and ongoing operation of the NFC. The team has a number of key responsibilities as part of the implementation and operation of the NCF, including:
- the design, implementation and coherent operation of the NCF and its key structures
- the allocation, reallocation and workload analysis of all Federal Court judicial work nationally, both first instance and appellate
- judicial support nationally, including case management.
In 1997, after consultation with representatives of the legal profession nationally and giving consideration to developments in case management and listing techniques in Australia and overseas, the Court adopted the individual docket system as the basis of its listing and case management system throughout Australia.
The individual docket system aims to encourage the just, orderly and expeditious resolution of disputes. It also seeks to enhance the transparency of the processes of the Court.
The individual docket system remains in place and is an integral feature of the management of the Court's work under the NCF.
The general principle underlying the individual docket system is that a case is allocated to the docket of a particular judge at or about the time of filing with the intention that, subject to any necessary reallocation, it will remain with that judge for case management and disposition.
- Savings in time and cost resulting from the Docket Judge's familiarity with the case. The system seeks to eliminate the necessity to explain the case afresh each time it comes before a judge.
- Consistency of approach throughout the case's history.
- Fewer listing events with greater results. The system aims at reducing the number of case management hearings and other events requiring appearances before the Court.
- Minimise unnecessary interlocutory disputes by permitting only interlocutory steps that are directed to identifying, narrowing or resolving the issues really in dispute between the parties.
- Better identification of cases suitable for Alternative Dispute Resolution (such as mediation).
- Earlier settlement of disputes or, failing that, a narrowing of the issues and a consequent saving of Court time.