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A Virtual Reality – Conducting Hearings in the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court during COVID-19

Family Law

As COVID-19 continues to affect our personal and professional lives, many clients ask whether the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia remain open for business.

The answer is “yes”.

Like many other businesses, schools and universities the Court has entered the virtual age and has begun conducting hearings electronically using Microsoft Teams. Whilst the courtroom is virtual, the usual Rules of Court with respect to Court procedures, courtesies and formalities still apply.

Our Family Law Division has run a number of Court events during COVID-19 restrictions including, call overs, conciliation conferences, mentions, interim and final hearings using Microsoft Teams.

To assist our clients to prepare for their electronic hearing, we find it useful to conduct trial conferences using Microsoft Teams prior to the Court date. This means that our clients, solicitors and counsel are familiar with the desktop app in advance of a Court event.

At Atkinson Vinden, our spacious Boardroom is equipped with a large screen and up-to-date technology to ensure that our clients can attend in-house for hearings, conferences and other Court events without breaching social distancing rules. In addition, the Firm has a number of break-out rooms, which are available during breaks in the Court proceedings and are often used to conduct conferences with appropriate social distancing.

Our in-house technology also allows us to cater for those clients who prefer to attend at an electronic Court event or conference remotely.

On 12 June 2020 the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia announced that they were increasing face-to-face hearings in a staggered way over the coming months commencing 15 June 2020. Face-to-face hearings need the approval of the relevant case management judge, in consultation with the Chief Justice/Chief Judge.  The Court have confirmed that priority is being given to urgent trials and urgent hearings of applications that the judge considers cannot be dealt with via Microsoft Teams or over the telephone.   To ensure the health and safety of judges, staff and the community, the Courts have designed safety protocols so that they can continue to provide an essential service for Australian families.

The courts will (where appropriate) continue to hear trials and appeals electronically.  Indeed, in the long-term, the virtual courtroom may be used for matters listed in regional Courts, or to provide a safe and less stressful forum for vulnerable parties to attend hearings and give evidence.

As government advice on community restrictions changes, and the Courts begin to permit a greater number of litigants and their legal representatives to return to Court registries in person, Atkinson Vinden, will ensure that we continue to provide our clients with up to date Court directives regarding the conduct of electronic hearings and provide suitable options that assist our clients to prepare for both face-to-face and online Court events.