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Information technology

The work of the Information Technology (IT) section is focused on creating a technology environment that is simple, follows contemporary industry standards and meets the evolving needs of judges and staff across all of the Courts and Tribunals.

Achievements for 2019–20 follow.

Courtroom video conferencing

A further 12 courtrooms were fitted out with fixed video conferencing infrastructure. This increases the penetration of courtrooms with fixed video conference capability from 38 per cent to 45 per cent. Video conferencing technology has been a key part of the Courts’ response to the COVID-19 social distancing requirements and are expected to be an increasingly important part of the conduct of hearings into the future.

The core of the video conference infrastructure was modernised and consolidated as part of the COVID-19 response. Prior to the work being undertaken there were two separate video conference networks, both on aged infrastructure and with little or no infrastructure resilience, and both networks suffered reliability and performance issues. The new consolidated network is common to all three Courts and has significant resilience and disaster recovery engineered into the design. This platform will be used to retire aging building telephone systems in 2020–21.

Remote access technologies

As part of a routine lifecycle upgrade program, two new remote access technologies were deployed in late 2019. These were a new CITRIX infrastructure for staff without laptop or tablet PCs, and a new virtual private network infrastructure for judges and staff with laptops or tablets. These new infrastructures were crucial to the Court’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The services could rapidly be expanded in capacity. At their peak, there were over 1,000 simultaneous remote connections to the Court network as judges and staff worked from home.

Microsoft Teams

As part of the response to COVID-19 pandemic, IT rapidly rolled out the Microsoft Teams collaboration product. This was deployed as part of our broader Microsoft Office 365 tenancy which supports our email and other collaboration services. Teams was used to support a virtual courtroom that enabled the Courts to continue operating during the lockdown period.

A key consideration of this virtual courtroom approach has been to ensure that transcripts could be provided to parties and that public access to hearings could be maintained. To assist in this, a third party product was integrated with Teams to allow the Court’s video enabled courtrooms to connect to a Teams-based virtual courtroom. In order to facilitate access to teams for participants without sufficient information technology resources, we subscribed to the telephone dial-in option for Teams.

A key focus for 2020–21 will be to determine how Teams or other web conferencing technologies fit into the work of the Courts into the future.

WiFi

Rollout of corporate and guest WiFi to key buildings was completed this financial year, with deployments to Darwin, Hobart, Canberra and Parramatta.

Data centre consolidation

Throughout 2019–20, all services run from the two Canberra data centres have either been retired or relocated to the production Sydney data centre. As a result data centres have been consolidated from four to two (production and disaster recovery in Sydney). This brings to an end the network and data centre consolidation program of the corporate services merger project.

Websites

The Court and Tribunal websites are the main sources of public information and a gateway to a range of online services such as eLodgment, eCourtroom, eFiling and the Commonwealth Courts Portal.

Corporate Services staff are responsible for managing and maintaining the following Court and Tribunal websites:

The websites provide access to a range of information including court forms and fees, publications, practice notes, guides for court users, daily court lists and judgments.

In the reporting year, over 16,358,984 million total hits to the sites were registered:

  • Federal Court website: 4,803,107
  • Family Court website: 5,331,242
  • Federal Circuit Court website: 6,224,635
  • National Native Title Tribunal website: 787,471*

*This is an estimate only as analytics were only introduced to this site on 1 August 2019.

There was a substantial amount of work invested in building and maintaining up-to-date dedicated COVID-19 pages on all websites. These pages include information about digital hearings, legislative changes, FAQs, information for the media, information for the profession, information for families and the latest news on Court and Tribunal operations. There were also four special measures information notes published for the Federal Court (see page 30 Special measures relating to COVID-19 for more information).

In the interests of maintaining open justice during the COVID-19 pandemic, changes were made to the publication of Daily Court Lists with the inclusion of procedures for members of the public to join online hearings as observers.

In addition, other improvements and project work undertaken for the websites during the reporting year include:

  • the creation of high profile online files including ABC v Kane, Application in the matter of Virgin Australia Holdings (Administrators Appointed) and Isileli ‘Israel’ Folau v Rugby Australia Limited & Anor
  • a new judgment publishing template for the Courts
  • a new redesigned homepage for the Federal Circuit Court website, which aims to improve access to information and understanding of the Court’s three main areas of filing: family law, migration law and general federal law
  • a continued focus on accessibility and providing more documents in accessible formats
  • a new section for the Lighthouse family violence project that will commence in the Family Court and Federal Court in 2020.
  • research and preparation for the commencement of a major website redevelopment project
  • preparation for the introduction of Live Chat for general federal law
  • ongoing improvements to court location pages to assist litigants with filing information and links to court lists.

Access to judgments

When a judgment of the Federal Court, Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court is delivered, a copy is made available to the parties and published on Court websites. The Federal Court also publishes decisions of the Australian Competition Tribunal, the Copyright Tribunal and the Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal.

The Courts also provide copies of judgments to a number of free legal information websites including AustLII and JADE, legal publishers, media and other subscribers. Judgments of public interest are published within an hour of delivery and other judgments within a few days, with the exception of family law and child support decisions which must first be anonymised. The Federal Court provides email notifications of judgments via a subscription service on the Court website.

The judgments staff of the Federal Court, Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court have been amalgamated and moved to Corporate Services to increase efficiencies in the publishing of judgments.

The need to migrate to a single judgment template for efficiency has seen the development of a new Judgment Template for all three Courts and facilitated a review of policies, practices and processes.