In response to the increasing number of cases involving family violence being heard in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia (the Courts), the Lighthouse Project aims to implement a new approach which screens for risk, with a primary focus to improve outcomes for families involved in the family law system.
The Lighthouse Pilot has been implemented in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia in the Adelaide (7 December 2020) and Brisbane and Paramatta (11 January 2021) registries, with any new parenting-only cases filed in these registries now eligible to be included in the Lighthouse Pilot.
The Pilot involves a three-part process:
Once an Application or Response for parenting matters only has been filed in one of the above registries, the parties will be asked to complete a questionnaire known as the Family DOORS Triage. This is a confidential questionnaire used to assist the Court in the next step of the pilot, triaging.
2. Triage and case pathways
A dedicated team has been assigned to the Lighthouse Pilot, made up of Registrars, family counsellors and support staff with knowledge in family safety risks and family violence. This team triages matters into one of three case management streams detailed below, depending on the level of risk.
3. Case management
Matters will be triaged into either the Evatt List, other case management or Alternative Dispute Resolution. The Evatt List is a specialist Court list for those matters that have been determined to involve a high risk of family violence and other safety concerns. Matters in this list have an emphasis on early information gathering and intervention, with shorter wait times in the Court system, with the objective of achieving a safer and better outcome. For example, Evatt List matters are to have a First Return before the Court within 8 to 12 weeks of filing, and a final trial within 9 to 12 months of filing. Conversely, matters with low to moderate risk will be directed through the usual case management pathways with an emphasis on completing ADR.
Practitioners with matters in the Lighthouse Pilot should familiarise themselves with the steps involved as part of the Pilot, particularly if the matter is listed (or may be listed) on the Evatt List. There are significant differences between matters proceeding through normal case management in the Federal Circuit Court, and those matters on the Evatt List. For example, in the Evatt List:
1. The Court may make orders in chambers prior to the First Return of the matter. This may include a s11F order, appointment of an ICL and orders for third party bodies (such as the Police or child welfare) to produce documents.
2. Parties and their lawyers are expected to attend at the relevant Court events, however often there may be Protection Orders in place and/or one party may not feel comfortable appearing in person with the other party present. Practitioners should be cognisant of this and apply to the Court for the implementation of safety plans where necessary.
3. Matters in the Evatt List are expected to progress significantly faster than those proceeding through the usual case management. Practitioners should familiarise themselves with the expected time frames for each stage of a matter in the Evatt List, and keep their clients informed of same.
Practitioners should follow Practice Direction No. 3 of 2020 – Lighthouse Project and Evatt List, and otherwise refer to the Guide for Practitioners in the Evatt List when engaging with matters in the Lighthouse Pilot and Evatt List.