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Workload of the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court

The Federal Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Circuit Court in a number of areas of general federal law including bankruptcy, human rights, workplace relations and migration matters. The registries of the Federal Court provide registry services for the Federal Circuit Court in its general federal law jurisdiction.

In 2019–20, a total of 14,802 matters were filed in the two courts. The number of filings has an impact on the Federal Court’s registries, as the staff members of the Federal Court’s registries process the documents filed for both the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court (in its general federal law jurisdictions). The registries also provide the administrative support for each matter to be heard and determined by the relevant court.​

Figure 3.1: Filings to 30 June 2020 – Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court Chart showing Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court filings to 30 June 2020.

Case flow management of the Court's jurisdiction

The Court has adopted, as one of its key case flow management principles, the establishment of time goals for the disposition of cases and the delivery of reserved judgments. The time goals are supported by the careful management of cases through the Court’s individual docket system and the implementation of practice and procedure designed to assist with the efficient disposition of cases according to law. This is further enhanced by the reforms of the National Court Framework.

Under the individual docket system, a matter will usually stay with the same judge from commencement until disposition. This means a judge has greater familiarity with each case and leads to the more efficient management of the proceeding.

Disposition of matters other than native title

In 1999–2000, the Court set a goal of 18 months from commencement as the period within which it should dispose of at least 85 per cent of its cases (excluding native title cases). The time goal was set having regard to the growing number of long, complex and difficult cases, the impact of native title cases on the Court’s workload and a decrease in the number of less complex matters. The time goal is reviewed regularly by the Court in relation to workload and available resources. The Court’s ability to continue to meet its disposition targets is dependent upon the timely replacement of judges.

Notwithstanding the time goal, the Court expects that most cases will be disposed of well within the 18 month period, with only particularly large and/or difficult cases requiring more time. Indeed, many cases are urgent and need to be disposed of quickly after commencement. The Court’s practice and procedure facilitates early disposition when necessary.

During the five-year period from 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2020, 92.9 per cent of cases (excluding native title matters) were completed in 18 months or less; 87 per cent in 12 months or less; and 72.3 per cent in six months or less. See Figure A5.4 in Appendix 5: Workload statistics. Figure A5.5 on page 135 shows the percentage of cases (excluding native title matters) completed within 18 months over the last five reporting years.

Delivery of judgments

In the reporting period, the Court handed down 2,313 judgments for 2,158 court files. Of these, 886 judgments were delivered in appeals (both single judge and Full Court) and 1,427 in first instance cases. These figures include both written judgments and judgments delivered orally on the day of the hearing, immediately after the completion of evidence and submissions. There was a slight increase in the total number of judgments delivered in 2019–20 compared to the number of judgments delivered in 2018–19.

The nature of the Court’s workload means that a substantial proportion of the decisions in the matters that proceed to trial in the Court will be reserved by the trial judge at the conclusion of the trial.

The judgment is delivered at a later date and is often referred to as a ‘reserved judgment’. The nature of the Court’s appellate work also means a substantial proportion of appeals require reserved judgments.

Appendix 7: Decisions of interest includes a summary of decisions of interest delivered during the reporting year and illustrates the Court’s varied jurisdiction.