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FCFCOA updates COVID-19 hearing protocol

Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Chief Justice William Alstergren has updated the COVID-19 hearing protocol applicable to both divisions of the court.

Key features include:

  • The court will no longer seek confirmation of vaccination status from practitioners and litigants before they attend the court.
  • Mask requirements will be retained, as there is not yet consistency amongst the state and territory regulations as to whether masks are or are not required in courts/justice/correctional settings. The protocol provides scope for direction to be provided that a mask need not be worn.
  • Where a matter is listed for final hearing or interim/interlocutory hearing before a local judge, the hearing will be conducted in-person unless directed otherwise by the presiding judge.
  • Where a matter is listed for final hearing before an interstate or non-local judge, the final hearing will be conducted electronically unless otherwise approved by the Chief Justice/Chief Judge.
  • Ordinarily, short hearings and procedural hearings listed before a judge will be heard electronically, unless otherwise directed by the judge, with the exception of compliance and readiness hearings in family law, which will ordinarily be listed to proceed in-person.
  • All short hearings and procedural hearings listed before a Senior Judicial Registrar, Judicial Registrar or Deputy Registrar will be heard electronically, including first return hearings, mentions, directions, judgment delivery, bankruptcy lists and divorce hearings, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
  • Where a matter is listed for final or interim/interlocutory hearing to proceed in-person, a party seeking to appear electronically by video or telephone must file a request to attend by electronic communication in the approved form (see rule 15.16 of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021).

Chief Justice Alstergren said that, on behalf of the judges, registrars, court child experts and staff of the courts, he wished to thank each member of the profession for their extraordinary work in supporting their clients, their colleagues, and the courts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The ability of the Courts to maintain necessary levels of access to justice during the COVID-19 pandemic is directly reliant upon the support and cooperation of the profession,” he said. “That support and cooperation has been unwavering and the Courts are incredibly grateful.”

The updated protocol is available from the court’s website.

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