Migration Matters in Federal Law Search

31 March 2020

The Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court recently became aware of a major systemic failure where the names of parties - that should have been identified under pseudonyms in some migration matters - could be seen in the Federal Law Search section of the Commonwealth Courts Portal (CCP).

The CCP provides web-based services for the legal profession and litigants as well as information for the public about cases before the courts.

The names of parties could be revealed if a user entered a common family name, clicked on the application type (migration) and then checked the list to identify cases that showed both the actual name along with the pseudonym.

Once the courts’ IT section was notified, the CCP was immediately shutdown in order carry out a thorough investigation to ascertain the cause and to resolve the problem.

Since becoming aware of the issue on Friday 20 March 2020, the Court has allocated significant resources to thoroughly investigating the causes of the failure and to rectification of the issue. During the investigation it has become apparent that there is not one single root cause that has led to the publication of names on the CCP Courts Portal. Three separate registry process issues have been identified. These include:

  • where a matter is initiated in the name of the applicant, the relevant registry needs to recognise it as a 91X related matter for which a pseudonym is required. Currently, this requires a change at the file and cause of action level. If only a change at the cause of action level is made, then Federal Law Search will continue to provide the name that remains at the file level when a search of that name is undertaken;
  • where a matter is initiated in the name of the applicant, and rather than deleting the party name the registry end dates the name, Federal Law Search still provides results including the name at the file and cause of action level.
  • where law firms lodge supplementary documents under the name of the applicant rather than a pseudonym, that lodgement is placed in a special queue in eLodgment that identifies that a new party has been added to a matter. If these are simply accepted then Federal Law Search will identify the party name when searched.

So far approximately 400 hundred cases have been identified and the problem rectified in each case. Whilst the investigation is ongoing, we have a reasonable degree of confidence that this figure will not rise significantly. The investigation allows the conclusion that the failures do not affect all files, but only those where the above errors appear to have occurred.

While the CCP is again operational, the search function for migration cases has been disabled. Once rectification work is done, litigants and the profession who access this function by secure means, will still have secure access to the migration section for the conduct of their matters.

Public access to migration matters through Federal Law Search will remain disabled until further notice. Any ongoing public access to migration cases through the CCP following rectification will be reviewed in due course, but is disabled until further notice.

Updated registry processing procedures have been implemented and staff are now undertaking these new procedures.

The functionality of Federal Law Search is being examined to determine if technical solutions, including reduced functionality, could complement updated registry processing procedures to help ensure this issue is never repeated.

To the extent possible, parties known to be affected by the breach (and their lawyers where relevant) will be informed by the Court of the breach.