The Court underwent a significant restructure on 1 September 2021. The primary goal of the restructure was to reduce the backlog, improve systems, and harmonise rules and forms.
We now have a single point of entry (as opposed to deciding between the Federal Circuit Court or the Family Court), and a single set of forms.
There has been a recruitment drive within the Court, which has led to a significant increase in the number of Judicial officers. Legislative change has enabled an increase in delegated powers to Judicial Registrars and Senior Judicial Registrars. This in turn has led to Judges having more time to hear Final Hearings.
Before the merger, an average case took two years or more to be decided on a final basis. With the merger, the Court set an aspirational goal to halve that time frame, and aim to have all matters resolved on a Final basis within 12 months of filing. Despite increased efficiencies, it is our anecdotal experience that this goal will not be achieved. It is our understanding that Final Hearing allocations for the Newcastle registry have been exhausted for the balance of 2022.
The new rules require each party to make a genuine effort to resolve the matter before filing an Application with the Court. This has led to an increased uptake of mediation, which in turn has led to an increased number of matters resolving early and avoiding the need for the Court’s intervention.
Litigation has become more expensive for many parties under the new rules, with an increased number of forms to be completed, the Court is now undertaking further reviews to reduce the number of forms filed at first instance, and reduce inefficiencies created by duplication of information.
The Court has an increased expectation that parties will fund their own expert reports when they are financially able to do so, and parties can no longer expect the Court to fund Family Reports as they have done in the past.
More than 8 months have elapsed since the merger and while the merger has not delivered an instant fix any improvements designed to create a more user friendly and efficient system is welcomed.