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FCFCOA case management pathways outlined

With family violence at an all-time high, this family lawyer outlines the case management processes of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) — and how they have benefited victims of family violence so far.

user iconLauren Croft 22 May 2023 The Bar
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According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data, 54 per cent of recorded assaults were related to family and domestic violence in most states in 2021, and in 2022, more than one in three recorded murders were related to family and domestic violence.

Since the merger of the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia in September 2021, new case management processes have been implemented by the FCFCOA in a move to identify and respond to family violence and other family safety risks.

Almost two years on, and in light of Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month in May this year, Smokeball and FamilyProperty are running a six-part webinar series on exploring best practice in family violence and the state of affairs in family law, as well as donating to family violence charities and encouraging those in the legal profession to do the same.


In the lead-up to the webinar, Fiona Kirkman, co-founder of FamilyProperty global family law evangelist of Smokeball, spoke to Lawyers Weekly about the FCFCOA case management pathways for family violence and what will constitute best practice moving forward.

These pathways, according to Ms Kirkman, include the Lighthouse Project and Evatt List, the Magellan Program, the Cross-Examination Scheme, and Family Advocacy and Support Services.

Lighthouse Project and Evatt List

According to the FCFCOA, Lighthouse plays a key role in the court’s response to cases that may involve risk relating to family violence, mental health, drug and alcohol misuse and child abuse and neglect, by shaping the allocation of resources and urgency given to such cases.

The Evatt List is a specialist list developed by the courts where a team is allocated to manage cases that are considered to be high risk to support vulnerable families.

“The Lighthouse Project is an innovative approach taken by the courts to screen for risk, with a primary focus on improving outcomes for families involved in the family law system. The Lighthouse Project incorporates a questionnaire and case management system aimed at early identification of safety risks, with the screening considering risks such as family violence, child abuse, mental health and substance misuse,” Ms Kirkman explained.

“There is a specialist Evatt List for the highest risk cases. Since the expansion of the Lighthouse Project, 60 per cent of risk screens have identified high-risk factors, indicating the prevalence of family violence and other family safety risks in the courts. The Lighthouse program provides support and resources to families navigating the system and offers confidentiality. The program aims to minimise trauma and harm and provide families with appropriate and well-resourced pathways during one of the most challenging times in their lives.”

The Magellan Program

The Magellan case management pathway is used in the courts for cases involving current and serious allegations of sexual abuse and serious physical abuse of children.

This case management pathway, according to Ms Kirkman, is “designed to ensure that cases adhere, at every stage, to strict timelines and are intensively case managed by a team”.

“The Magellan Program’s aim is to provide a coordinated multi-agency approach by the FCFCOA, the state child protection department and Legal Aid to the resolution of parenting disputes involving the most vulnerable children as effectively and efficiently as possible,” she said.

Cross-Examination Scheme

This scheme ensures that cross-examination is done by a legal professional, with the aim of further protecting victims of family violence.

“Personal cross-examination is now banned in family law proceedings in certain circumstances where allegations of family violence have been raised,” Ms Kirkman said.

“Cross-examination must be conducted by a legal representative, either a privately retained practitioner or one funded through the scheme.”

Family Advocacy and Support Services (FASS)

FASS offers free legal advice and support at court for people affected by domestic and family violence, and it was established by the Australian government last year.

“The government has established domestic violence units that deliver integrated specialist legal and social support to people experiencing, or at risk of, domestic and family violence,” Ms Kirkman added.

“FASS is delivered by the various state-based legal aid commissions in family law registries across Australia and provides parents with a coordinated range of frontline integrated legal duty and social support services to help families affected by family violence.”

Safe & Together

Additionally, the FCFCOA announced in April that it would deliver court-wide domestic violence training via the Safe & Together Institute, which David Mandel, chief executive of Safe & Together Institute and creator of the Safe & Together Model, said would help drive positive change for families experiencing domestic violence.

“The Safe & Together Institute appreciates the whole court approach taken by the FCFCOA. The training offered by the Safe & Together Institute has been targeted to not just one group, but to judges, registrars, court child experts, and Regulation 7 family consultants,” he said.

“The goal is to facilitate better outcomes for children and families experiencing domestic violence by offering a shared language and framework centred on better identifying key factors such as the harm to children from perpetrators’ coercive control, a wider range of parental protective factors and a greater understanding of the intersection of domestic violence with other risk factors like mental health and substance misuse issues.”

In terms of how these case management pathways have benefited both family lawyers and victims of family violence, Ms Kirkman said that there had been a number of positives — and that many cases are now being handled more efficiently.

“Outcomes of the Lighthouse Project Pilot have highlighted the significant benefits of this initiative in strengthening the courts’ capacity to address instances of family violence and protect vulnerable parties, including children. As a result of its success, the Lighthouse Project has been expanded to encompass all registries, allowing for a wider reach and impact across the jurisdiction.

“Another key development is the extension of the Family Advocacy and Support Services to all registries. This initiative provides comprehensive support and appropriate referrals to both victims and perpetrators throughout the separation process, emphasising a holistic and trauma-informed approach,” she explained.

“Anecdotal evidence from lawyers reveals that the FCFCOA case management pathways for family violence have facilitated more timely and expert case management, ultimately expediting the resolution of such matters in a more efficient manner. This not only ensures better support and protection for victim-survivors, but also enhances the overall efficacy of the judicial system in addressing family violence.”