Go to top of page

Commonwealth Courts Registry Services

Overview of Registry Services

In 2019–20, the registry services functions for the Federal Court, Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court were amalgamated into a new program under Outcome 4 (Program 4.2) known as the Commonwealth Courts Registry Services (also known as Court and Tribunal Services).

This initiative provides the Courts with the opportunity to shape the delivery of administrative services across the entity in a more innovative and efficient manner.

A focus on maximising registry operational effectiveness through streamlined structures and digital innovations will significantly contribute to the future financial sustainability of the Courts.

The creation of Registry Services provides the Courts with the opportunity to identify ways to improve the services delivered to judicial officers, the litigants and the public more broadly.

A national approach ensures that the quality and productivity of registry services is the very best it can be, through building consistency in registry practice across all Court locations.

Objectives

The objectives of Registry Services are to:

  • provide a high level of support for the judiciary and court users through a national practice-based framework
  • maximise operational effectiveness through streamlined structures and digital innovations
  • develop an organisational structure that promotes flexibility and responsiveness to new opportunities and demands, and
  • support the Courts to take full advantage of the benefits of the Digital Court Program.

Purpose

The purpose of Registry Services is to provide efficient and effective services to the Commonwealth courts and tribunals and its users.

Registry services management structure

A new national management structure was finalised during the reporting year.

The Executive Director, Court and Tribunal Services has overarching responsibility for the delivery of registry services and leads the design and delivery of improved case management and administrative services across the Courts and the Tribunal. The Executive Director, Court and Tribunal Services reports to the CEO and Principal Registrar of the Federal Court.

Directors of Court Services report to the Executive Director, Court and Tribunal Services. They lead and manage the Courts’ registry operations and resources in their respective regions, as well as contribute to continuous business improvement across three national streams: client services, digital services and court operations. Directors of Court Services work collaboratively with national service managers and other directors to lead and manage multi-disciplinary teams delivering a range of customer-driven professional and business support services to ensure national service excellence. The development and maintenance of key relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, culturally diverse community groups and support services is an important responsibility of the role and ensures that all Court services recognise the needs of our client groups.

Managers of Court Services report to the Director of Court Services in their respective region and are responsible for leading and managing the Courts’ registry operations and resources in their location in accordance with the Courts’ strategic and operational plans and national service standards. Liaising with the judiciary of all Courts in their location, they ensure that the judiciary are well supported in Chambers and in Court, and that the delivery of court services are consistent, responsive to client needs and provided in a courteous, timely and efficient manner.

Judicial and Registry Services Team Leaders report to the Director of Court Services in their respective region and are responsible for delivering high quality case management, courtroom and chambers support to judicial officers (including training and development of associates) and registry services to clients, legal practitioners, registrars, family consultants and community groups that support court users. They have oversight of judicial and registry services in their location, and provide information on appropriate avenues for addressing client needs, and recommending appropriate options for effective resourcing and services for the Courts.

The Manager National Enquiry Centre (NEC) reports to the Executive Director, Court and Tribunal Services and is responsible for the strategic and operational management of the Courts’ National Enquiry Centre based in Parramatta. This position has responsibility for managing the team handling first-level enquiries related to Family Law matters received via phone, email and live chat. In collaboration with national and local managers, the NEC manager is an important driver and contributor to the identification of business and process enhancements linked to the delivery of improved customer interactions with the Courts and meeting service level standards associated with enquiries handling.

Court and Tribunal registries

The key functions of Court and Tribunal registries are to:

  • provide information and advice about court procedures, services and forms, as well as referral options to community organisations that enable clients to take informed and appropriate action
  • ensure that available information is accurate and provided in a timely fashion to support the best outcome for clients
  • encourage and promote the filing of documents and management of cases online through the Portal
  • enhance community confidence and respect by responding to clients’ needs and assisting with making the court experience a more positive one
  • monitor and control the flow of cases through file management and quality assurance
  • schedule and prioritise matters for court events to achieve the earliest resolution or determination, and
  • manage external relationships to assist with the resolution of cases.

The service delivery principles of Registry Services are to provide services that are:

  • Safe and easy to access: all processes and services are streamlined so that they prioritise user safety and ease of access.
  • Consistent and equitable: the level of service available to users is consistent irrespective of the location.
  • Timely and responsive: services should meet the needs of each user and be delivered in a timeframe considered to be reasonable.
  • Reliable and accurate: Courts and tribunals must have full confidence that the information provided by staff can be relied upon by the user.

Figure 4.1 below provides an overview of the registry services management structure.

Figure 4.1: Registry Services national management structure, 30 June 2020 Figure showing the national organisational structure of Registry Services at 30 June 2020.

Registry Services locations

There are eight general federal law registries located in every state and territory.

Family law services are provided in 18 registries located in every state and territory (except Western Australia).

Three sites – Canberra, Darwin and Hobart – provide cross-jurisdictional services for general federal law and family law registry services.

The work of Registry Services in 2019-20

Registry Services has three main performance criteria:

  1. Correct information
    • Less than 1 per cent of enquiries result in a complaint about registry services.
  2. Timely processing of documents
    • 75 per cent of documents processed within three working days.
    • 90 per cent of documents processed within five working days.
  3. Efficient registry services
    • All registry services provided within the agreed funding and staffing level.

Figure 4.2: Registry Services location map A map showing the locations of Registry Services across the country.
​​

Snapshot of 2019-20 performance against targets

Table 4.4: Snapshot of Registry Services performance against targets, 2019–20

TARGET

RESULT 2019–20

TARGET STATUS

CORRECT INFORMATION

Less than 1 per cent of enquiries result in a complaint about registry services.

.004 per cent of enquiries resulted in a complaint about registry services

Target met

TIMELY PROCESSING OF DOCUMENTS

75 per cent of documents processed within three working days.

97.8 per cent of documents were processed within three working days

Target met

90 per cent of documents processed within five working days.

98.4 per cent of documents were processed within five working days

Target met

EFFICIENT REGISTRY SERVICES

All registry services provided within the agreed funding and staffing level.

All registry services were provided within the agreed funding and staffing levels.

Target met

Registry Services staff nationally manage an average daily workload of:

  • 3,400 enquiries
  • 3,100 lodgments (including initiating applications and supplementary documents)
  • 330 subpoena lodgments and inspection requests, and
  • 20 safety plan requests.

Registry Services staff also process urgent enquiries and applications and are regularly at the front line dealing with difficult issues and supporting a diverse range of clients with different needs both professionally and courteously. These include supporting the most vulnerable clients by creating and managing safety plans and ensuring people from non-English speaking backgrounds are suitably supported.

Financial management

In 2019–20, Registry Services performed within its overall budgeted allocation of $30,445,000 by 3 per cent, primarily due to COVID-19 related savings in supplier expenditure.

Document processing

Registry Services has two performance targets relating to the timely processing of documents.

  1. 75 per cent of documents processed within three working days.
  2. 90 per cent of documents processed within five working days.

Registries receive and process applications lodged at registry counters, via eFiling and in the mail Registry Services staff processed approximately 860,000 applications and supplementary documents in 2019–20.

Overall, family law filings have remained relatively consistent in volume for 2019–20. However, high volume, resource demanding applications such as applications for consent orders and divorce applications have increased by 7 per cent (14,908) and 3 per cent (45,886) respectively. Subpoena management, including the filing of subpoenas, notices of request to inspect and notices of objection, has decreased by 6 per cent (from 89,187 in 2018–19 to 81,444 in 2019–20). Major causes of action in federal law have decreased overall by 8 per cent in 2019–20.

Enquiries

Staff working on the counters in both federal law and family law registries handle general enquiries, lodge documents relating to proceedings, provide copies of documents and/or orders and facilitate the viewing of court files and subpoenas. Registry Services staff provide an efficient and effective service when dealing with litigants in person and the legal profession face-to-face at counters across Australia.

Approximately 835,000 enquiries are made to the court and tribunals each year, with almost half of these enquires being handled by the National Enquiry Centre. A 28 per cent decrease in counter enquiries compared to 2019–20 was expected given the restrictions resulting from COVID-19 and the closure of registry counters since March.

Family law enquiries

Registry Services staff handle counter enquiries in each location. Court users, and sometimes the National Enquiry Centre, also send enquiries directly to family law court locations via email. These enquiries are usually case-specific or require some form of local knowledge or decision. There are 18 family law courts across the country.

General federal law enquiries

Enquiries relating to general federal law matters are managed by Registry Services staff at each general federal law location separately. There are five general federal law locations each with their own counters and three with shared counters. They each have their own phone, email and fax contact details for enquiries.

Some registries also provide additional services to support other Courts and Tribunals:

  • The New South Wales District Registry provides registry services to the Copyright Tribunal, the Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal and the Australian Competition Tribunal and the Court of Norfolk Island.
  • The Queensland registry provides registry services to the High Court of Australia, the Copyright Tribunal, and the Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal.
  • The South Australian registry provides registry services to the High Court of Australia, Australian Competition Tribunal, Copyright Tribunal of Australia, and the Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal.
  • The Victorian registry provides registry services to the Australian Competition Tribunal and the Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal.
  • The Western Australian registry provides registry services to the High Court of Australia, the Australian Competition Tribunal and the Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal.

Complaints

There were a total of 38 complaints in relation to Registry Services during 2019–20. The number of complaints is relatively small, being less than .005 per cent of the total number of enquiries and significantly less than the performance target of 1 per cent.

Local registry consultation

Registry Services staff continue to regularly engage with numerous external groups such as local family law pathways networks, legal aid, bar associations and law societies, local practitioners and practitioners’ associations, community legal centres, family relationship centres, community organisations and support groups, child protection agencies, family violence committees and organisations, state courts, universities and police services. Registries also continued to work with the Family Advocacy and Support Services program, with the aim of enhancing their presence in the registries. In addition to those providers of legal advice already listed, registry services staff also regularly engage with organisations who provide information to litigants requiring assistance with general federal law, such as the Consumer Action Law Centre, Justice Connect, LawRight, and providers of financial counselling and advice on migration matters.

Public education and engagement

The Court engages in a range of strategies to enhance public understanding of its work, and the Court’s registries are involved in educational activities with schools and universities and, on occasion, with other organisations that have an interest in the Court’s work. The following highlights some of these activities during the year.

The Court hosted many work experience students across multiple registries. Students are given a program that exposes them to all areas of the Court’s operations over the course of one week. School visits and educational tours were down this year due to risks associated with COVID-19.

The Court’s support for and work with schools and universities continued through the year.

  • The Victorian registry hosted a number of moot courts for La Trobe University, Freemasons Victoria, Melbourne Law School, University of New England, Victoria University, King & Wood Mallesons and the International Commission of Jurists Victoria. The registry also hosted the CIArb Australia Pre-Moot Grand Final, the Sir Harry Gibbs Constitutional Law Moot, the Victorian Bar Witness Examination Competition, Foley’s List First Year Witness Exam Competition, Australian Bar Association Advanced Advocacy Intensive and the Commercial Bar Association Annual Drinks.
  • The New South Wales registry hosted three moot courts for the University of New England and one for the University of Technology Sydney. The registry also had a work experience placement program running in August, September and November 2019.
  • The Queensland registry hosted the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students’ moot competition, the Griffith Law School alumni event, the Queensland intervarsity law competition, and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) mooting team. In November 2019, the Queensland registry hosted two visits from year 12 students and teachers from the Southern Cross Catholic College.

Overseas delegations

Registries regularly host visiting delegations from overseas courts who are interested in learning more about the Court’s operations. This year, visiting delegation numbers were down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however the following visits occurred:

  • Australian Capital Territory — the Canberra registry hosted a visit from Manami Takekoshi, a Family Court Investigating Officer from Osaka Family Court of Japan, who is also an ANU College of Law Visiting Fellow. Ms Takekoshi held discussions with the Senior Family Consultant, the Registrar and observed His Honour Justice Gill’s matters. Ms Takekoshi is the equivalent of a family consultant in Japan and during her fellowship, she was undertaking a comparative study in relation to the courts’ approaches to parenting.
  • New South Wales — in August 2019, the registry hosted a lunch for a visiting delegation of judges from Hong Kong.
  • Victoria — in August/September 2019, the registry hosted a visit from Sir Nicholas Blake QC, a retired judge of the High Court of England and Wales. In December 2019, the Victorian registry hosted a delegation from the International Labour Organisation of Malaysia.

National Enquiry Centre

The National Enquiry Centre (NEC) has been in operation since 2006 as the centre for family law enquiries in the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. The NEC provides the national entry point for approximately 35,000 phone, email and live chat enquiries per month.

The NEC’s responsibilities include:

  • first telephone contact to the courts via the 1300 number
  • first email contact to the courts via enquiries [at] familylawcourts.gov.au and support [at] comcourts.gov.au
  • first contact to the courts via live chat
  • a large proportion of telephone and email contacts from existing parties, lawyers and other court stakeholders
  • support for users of the Portal including the Family Court of Western Australia and the Federal Court
  • after hours service
  • printing of event-based fee statements
  • processing of proof of divorce requests, and
  • Twitter notifications of procedural and registry information.

Due to the impacts of COVID-19, Registry Services introduced general federal law enquiries into the NEC as a mechanism to continue to service the public throughout what has been deemed an unprecedented operational environment. During a one month pilot – from 28 April 2020 to 29 May 2020 – the NEC responded to approximately 98 phone and 259 live chat general federal law enquiries.

Enquiries are received via three public channels: telephone via the 1300 number; emails; and live chat. The NEC’s focus is to provide parties and stakeholders with appropriate information as efficiently and simply as possible through these channels.

Callers to the 1300 number are provided with general background and support information in a welcome message before being placed in a queue for the next available operator. Phone enquiries to the NEC have been declining for the past ten years, with email and live chat channels increasing in popularity, although phone enquiries have increased in 2019–20, primarily due to COVID-19. Portal support was also a major factor contributing to the work of the NEC in 2019–20.

Emails and live chats are monitored by staff trained in responding to written requests. Live chat volumes are estimates only, based on manual counts.

The NEC regularly refers parties to various stakeholders including 1800 Respect, Family Relationships Advice Line (FRAL), legal aid, government agencies and community legal centres. The NEC maintains a close relationship with FRAL and legal aid centres and regularly consults with them.

The NEC continued its commitment to support staff in their work. It encourages a collaborative workplace by:

  • providing ongoing coaching and training
  • enhancing wellbeing by providing ergonomic training assessment to all staff
  • providing peer support and mentoring
  • ensuring information and knowledge management systems are up-to-date, and
  • holding regular meetings with staff to provide a two-way process of information flow.

Summary of NEC performance in 2019-20

  • The NEC received a total of 275,052 phone calls (an increase from 260,844 in 2018–19).
  • Callers waited an average of 15 minutes and 16 seconds for their call to be answered (compared to 14 minutes in 2018–19).
  • The average length of a call was six minutes and 36 seconds (compared to six minutes and 24 seconds in 2018–19).
  • Of the calls received by the NEC, 46,752 calls were for Portal support – an increase of 180 calls from 2018–19.
  • An average of 74 calls a month were transferred to a family law registry. NEC staff are aware of the importance of completing transactions at the first point of contact and only transfer calls when absolutely necessary.
  • 204 calls were received to the after-hours service.
  • 43 per cent of calls were abandoned while queued.
  • 75,192 live chats were received in 2019–20, an average of 296 per day (an increase from 62,256 (or 246 per day) in 2018–19).
  • 9696 proof of divorce requests were processed.
Table 4.5: National Enquiry Centre workload statistics, 2015–16 to 2019–20

Target

2015–16

2016–17

2017–18

2018–19

2019–20

Phone calls

286,476

288,276

272,040

260,844

275,052

Live chats

66,336

95,424

91,704

62,256

75,192

Proof of divorce requests processed

12,348

13,344

11,880

10,656

9,696

Calls for Portal support

28,584

30,180

36,636

46,572

46,752

Registry Services initiatives in 2019-20

COVID-19

While the impacts of COVID-19 were felt throughout the community, the ability of Registry Services to respond flexibly and quickly to changes in the Courts’ operational environments saw many changes and initiatives successfully introduced throughout the reporting period. These include:

  • business continuity testing and planning
  • changed registry practices to support an increase in digital hearings
  • changes to eFiling and eLodgment arrangements
  • changes to subpoena viewing
  • training of staff to support new processes.

Registry Services staff supported these initiatives by:

  • developing a guide to support litigants seeking assistance in the use of eLodgment, particularly for FCC migration applications
  • providing dedicated support to the judiciary to ensure continuity of registry operations and prospective and current litigants’ access to justice
  • providing national courtroom allocation to support new digital hearing initiatives
  • developing practice guides to support the profession, litigants and witnesses on how to appear in digital court proceedings
  • supporting an external company engaged to review Court buildings to ensure that appropriate social distancing protocols were in place to mitigate the risk of infection to staff and the public and installing social distancing markers at all registry locations to support revised face-to-face protocols.

Digital Court File

On 19 April 2020, the Digital Court File was successfully deployed across the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court and is now the official court record for all new family law files.

The Digital Court File supports the Courts’ ongoing modernisation agenda and enhances support for in-court technology and digital hearings. The Digital Court File is a repository for the electronic storage of documents, which allows the courts to transition from paper to digital court files.

One of the realised benefits of the Digital Court File is that the file may be accessed by several staff at the same time, resulting in all documents being instantly available and reduces the need to wait for another person to finish with a hard copy file.

The Digital Court Program is part of the Government’s broader digital transformation agenda and was announced as part of the Streamlining and Improving the Sustainability of Courts budget package. It also aligns with the Attorney-General’s Department’s strategic priority to Maintain an efficient and effective Commonwealth justice system.

Registry Services staff:

  • provided subject matter experts to train all family law staff and provided ongoing support during implementation
  • support chambers in the transition from physical to digital files, and
  • modified procedures in order to take advantage of the capabilities of the Digital Court File.

Leadership forums for managers and team leaders

The Directors of Court Services participated in a planning session in November 2019 to collaborate and share knowledge, and to discuss the strategies, priorities and the realignment of Registry Services to support the work of the three courts. The group reviewed service delivery principles, including how services are delivered, the resources required to deliver the services, and the priorities for the next 12 months.

Registry Services training

In 2019, an initiative was launched to provide training for Registry Services staff in the following areas: family violence, cultural competency and access to justice for people with a disability. The training was designed to support staff to develop the knowledge, skills and awareness to work effectively and appropriately with clients and respond to barriers that can prevent a person from accessing justice in the Family Law Courts. Training completion rates at the time of finalising this report were as follows: Access to justice for people with a disability (52 per cent); cultural competency (64 per cent); and family violence (71 per cent).

In May 2020, a series of migration training sessions were conducted for any registry staff member who supports the practice area of migration in any capacity. The training focused on the acceptance and processing of documents lodged for individuals applying for protection visas and how to ensure an applicant’s anonymity and confidentiality is maintained throughout the proceedings.

Enquiries management review

The Enquiries management project was launched to address recommendations from the FCA enquiries audit report and the NEC review. It aims to improve the handling of enquiries to all three courts by enhancing the capacity and capability of the NEC to assist court users; reducing organisations risk relating to business continuity, processes and systems; and improving the management of workload across all court locations and registries.

Planned project outputs are the implementation of robust enquiries management technology, consistent national enquiries knowledge collateral, and an agile enquiries management model capable of adjusting to meet the necessary service demands. These outputs will enable an improved ability to measure service performance, simplified enquiry channels available to court users, nationally consistent enquiries service structures and practices, and an enquiries management model supported by technology which reduces organisational risk. Implementation of the project initiatives has commenced and will continue into the second half of 2020.

New service model for integrated registry services

To continue to provide a high level of support for the judiciary and court users, an initiative that integrates court and tribunals service has commenced. The objective of the model is to enhance the services provided by registry services though the introduction of a national consistency framework model and maximise operational effectiveness through streamlined structure and digital innovations, while developing a structure that promotes flexibility and responsiveness to new opportunities and demands.