Update to the Profession April 2023
New court process focuses on the safety of children and their families by identifying and addressing issues of family violence and other risks.
The expansion of Lighthouse supports the Courts’ priorities which includes the objective to shine a light on the scourge of family violence, improve the outcome of matters involving family violence and other risks, and to keep children and vulnerable parties safe. Since commencement of the expansion 60% of risk screens have been identified as high risk, with over 400 matters being placed on the Evatt List. This high number is indicative of the prevalence of serious and significant family violence and other family safety risks in, and vulnerability of, families entering the Courts. The Courts are focused on identifying and addressing risk, of all levels, and the importance of screening through Lighthouse cannot be understated.
The purpose of this update is to focus on the benefits of having a tailored case management approach, including the Evatt List. This update also provides answers to a number of frequently asked questions that the Courts have received. Practitioners are encouraged to review the previous update which was released in February 2023 that focuses on risk and includes links to the Lighthouse Webinar, detailing the Evatt List case management pathway.
Early and case-specific pathway to resolution
Lighthouse has two primary focuses; public health supports, and tailored case management. The ability to tailor the case management approach applies not only to those matters with family violence and other family safety risk factors, but also to those families who may be experiencing minimal or no safety risks. By encouraging your client to undertake the confidential Family DOORS Triage questionnaire (‘the screen’), practitioners are strengthening the support provided to their client as they navigate the family law system, regardless of the magnitude of risk.
A risk responsive, tailored case management approach will be adopted. The highest level of risk will see matters placed on the specialised Evatt List. Medium to lower levels of risk will see different approaches taken, such as the gathering of essential information and directing matters to early dispute resolution (where it is safe to do so). Lighthouse represents an opportunity to ensure that your clients and their children get the best support possible, and can be guided, during one of the most difficult times in their lives, through the most appropriate and well-resourced pathways.
Evatt List case management
The Evatt List has been created to ensure that families who are the most vulnerable are provided with resources, support and timely court events. It is a case management pathway that responds to the particular needs of the family as efficiently and effectively as possible to minimise the risk of further trauma and harm. All judicial officers supporting the Evatt List have undertaken specialised training and have extensive experience in working with families where high risk, serious safety issues have been identified.
A reminder that Part IIA of the Family Law Act 1975 (the Act) prevents the disclosure and admission into evidence, of information that is disclosed through the Courts’ family safety risk screening process. This includes references to the fact the screen has been completed. Part IIA of the Act provides that:
- a party cannot be asked to disclose whether or not they undertook risk screening
- the risk screen responses, classification and referrals arising from the screening process, cannot be used as evidence in a proceeding, and
- information shared or provided by a party to a triage counsellor in the course of conducting risk screening cannot be disclosed, or used as evidence.
Practitioners must NOT make submissions about, and parties must NOT make reference in affidavits to, having undertaken the screen. More information on how the risk screen is protected under Part IIA can be found in the Lighthouse overview.
How is a case placed onto the Evatt List?
A case may be placed onto the Evatt List if:
- it is an eligible proceeding filed in a family law registry
- at least one of the parties (applicant or respondent) has completed the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire (‘the screen’)
- the case has been reviewed by a Triage Counsellor, and
- the Evatt Judicial Registrar has also reviewed the case and determined it is appropriate for allocation to the Evatt List in accordance with Family Law Practice Direction – Evatt List.
If a case is allocated to the Evatt List, a formal Court Order will be made notifying parties. If no formal Court Order is received, the court date originally allocated will remain and the case will continue on the standard case management pathway unless otherwise advised by the Court.
Can a party or practitioner request to have a case allocated to the Evatt List?
No. This process is undertaken by the Court in accordance with Family Law Practice Direction – Evatt List. Further, practitioners are reminded that the risk screen, including whether or not your client completed the risk screen, is confidential under Part IIA of the Family Law Act 1975. As such submissions should not be made in open court which may compromise the confidential nature of the risk screening process and/or possibly compromise the safety of the parties.
How can I ensure my client has an opportunity to complete the risk screen and seek support?
After filing an email will be sent to parties or practitioners confirming the matter is eligible for screening. This email will be sent regardless of the information provided in the affidavit. A private email address of the party will be requested if it is not already available. Parties and practitioners are requested to ensure that the party’s personal email address is provided to the Court in the following ways:
- Both represented and unrepresented parties can provide their email address in the course of uploading their Initiating Application or Response on the Commonwealth Courts Portal.
- Where parties are represented and have not provided their email address, practitioners will be contacted by the Lighthouse Team to obtain their client’s personal details for the purpose of the risk screening process via an online form.
We strongly encourage your client to complete the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire as soon as possible after the link is sent. This will ensure that the matter provided the most appropriate case management at the earliest stage.
While the screen is voluntary, it is strongly encouraged and, where relevant, practitioners are required to provide information about why an email address to facilitate the screen has not been provided.
What are the key steps in Evatt case management?
To ensure that safe and well informed decisions are able to be made, the Evatt List uses intensive case management and additional resources to respond to cases with risk factors including family violence, high conflict, substance misuse, mental health and child abuse. The Evatt List is not necessarily a means to obtain a quicker outcome for your client. It is a process that will allow your client to be truly heard, through careful case management and a proactive approach to information gathering. The case management starts before the first court date so that the Judge or Senior Judicial Registrar hearing the interim application has all the information they need to make safe and appropriate orders. There are Guides on the Evatt List for both parties and practitioners.
My client’s case has been placed on the Evatt List, what next?
Legal representatives can assist their clients by ensuring they are able to identify all the resources and information relevant to the matter. This may include subpoena, expert reports and Independent Children’s Lawyers. The list is focussed on the safety of children and their parents and families. The thoroughness of all available information is vitally important for the Court to gain an accurate insight into the risk factors experienced by individual parties and ensure that appropriate orders are made.
The Judicial Registrar will make orders and directions, including pursuant to section 69ZW of the Family Law Act 1975 and will also indicate at which events personal appearances are required (including appearances to be facilitated via Microsoft Teams).
The matter will proceed to interim hearing on the listed date and therefore practitioners and parties must be prepared for a hearing. Before the interim hearing takes place, the parties should have reviewed the material produced by the police and the child welfare authority section 69ZW Family Law Act 1975, or relevant State legislation, along with any subpoena material and the other parties’ material. Discussions to narrow the issues are expected to have taken place prior to the dedicated time allocated for each interim hearing. The Senior Judicial Registrar will have read the material and will expect the parties to indicate what issues need determination and the alternative orders. Adjournments of interim hearings will occur in exceptional circumstances only.
My client is the Respondent in an Evatt case – Can they still complete the risk screen?
Yes. All parties filing an eligible Initiating Application or Response, will be asked to complete the Family DOORS Triage risk screen via a confidential and secure online platform. The risk screen will be sent upon the filing of an eligible Response.
The Courts have published a series of updates to the profession in advance of the expansion of Lighthouse and have published a recording of the Lighthouse Webinar. Practitioners are encouraged to review these updates as they contain important information about the expansion of Lighthouse and the Evatt List.
Further information can be found on the Courts’ website:
- Practice Directions
- Lighthouse including FAQs, fact sheets and detailed information on risk screening
- Evatt List
This update is also available online:
Lighthouse expansion – Update to the Profession April 2023 | Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (fcfcoa.gov.au)