As of 17 January 2022, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (“FCFCOA”) have introduced special measures to protect both Court staff and Court users in light of the challenges faced by the nation relating to COVID-19.
Effectively, it is the general consensus that no one is to attend Court unless the Court has specifically directed them to do so. However, if you are directed to attend Court, there are very strict safety protocols, including confirmation of double-vaccination status that must be adhered to.
Of course, in the case of exceptional circumstances, including urgency, the Court may direct matters to proceed in person, irrespective of vaccination status. This will be determined on a case by case basis. See a summary of the new protocols that have been enforced below.
If you are you directed to attend Court
- Anyone attending Court must be double-vaccinated against COVID-19 unless exceptional circumstances apply. All Court users are required to provide written confirmation to the Court that they are double-vaccinated no later than 5 days prior to the Court event. If you have a family lawyer, they will be able to coordinate this for you.
- Face masks are to be worn at all times unless addressing a judicial officer. Any Court user relying on an exemption to wearing a face mask must carry evidence of the basis for the exemption.
- All court users are required to adhere to social distancing measures (1.5m).
- Documents are to be filed electronically. Again, if you have a family lawyer, they will be able to file any court documents on your behalf.
Is your matter a short or procedural hearing?
All short/procedural hearings will be heard electronically. This includes first returns, duty lists, mentions, directions, judgement delivery, bankruptcy lists, and divorce hearings.
Is your matter listed for Final or Interim Hearing?
- Hearings will be conducted in person only if the presiding judicial officer thinks it is appropriate.
- You will be advised by correspondence from the presiding judicial officer (or their support staff) if you are required to attend in person. If you have a family lawyer, this information will be communicated to you through their office.
- If any party is not vaccinated, the hearing may proceed in person with the unvaccinated party attending electronically.
- In exceptional circumstances, including cases of urgency, matters may be in person despite a party not being double-vaccinated. If COVID-19 rapid antigen tests become available to the Court registry, unvaccinated users may be asked to undertake one.
Is your matter listed before an interstate Judge?
- The matter will proceed electronically unless otherwise approved by the Chief Justice/Chief Judge.
Have you been directed to attend Court and developed COVID-19 symptoms or are you awaiting test results?
The Court has stated that you are not to attend a Court registry if:
- You have tested positive in the last 14 days;
- You are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms;
- You are awaiting a COVID-19 test result;
- You have been directed to self-isolate; or
- You have come into close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
If the above circumstances apply to you, you (or your legal representative) must advise the Court urgently so that they can determine whether the matter should proceed electronically or be adjourned.
Family Law Dispute Resolution Events
Conciliation and Dispute Resolution Conferences will be conducted electronically unless the Registrar considers an in-person conference is required. You will be advised by correspondence if this is the case and will be requested to provide confirmation of your double-vaccination status. If a party is not vaccinated, the conference will proceed electronically or as otherwise directed by the registrar.
Court Child Expert Events
Interviews and observations by Child Experts will be conducted electronically unless the Court assesses in-person interviews/observations as being appropriate.
If interviews/observations are directed to be in person, all those aged 12 years and above are required to confirm that they are double-vaccinated.
In certain exceptional circumstances, including cases of urgency, interviews/observations may take place in-person despite vaccination status.
If any of the information contained in this article has raised questions or concerns for you, we recommend contacting our team of experienced family lawyers as a matter of priority. The depth and breadth of experience within our team mean that we are always up to date with the most recent changes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the practical implications these may have for our clients. Call us Toowoomba Family lawyers or fill out an online contact form to hear back from a member of our team today.