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Strategic Priority 3 - Justice

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Maintain an efficient and effective Commonwealth justice system

The department works to ensure Commonwealth justice institutions and legal structures operate efficiently and meet the needs of the Australian community.

This year we continued programs of key reforms to Commonwealth justice institutions. These reforms will improve operations, resourcing and efficiencies. The outcomes include better access to justice and funding for legal assistance.

Clients and stakeholders surveyed in 2017 expressed good levels of satisfaction and we achieved higher-than-targeted overall results. Survey results indicate 91% of stakeholders and clients were highly satisfied with our effectiveness and 81% agreed work met high efficiency standards. Our interactions with stakeholders ranked very highly with staff professionalism and commitment achieving a 90% satisfaction level (see Table 6).

To benchmark our community impact we look to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index (Factor 7) and measure performance by the maintenance or improvement of Australia’s global position. Factor 7 measures whether civil justice systems are accessible and affordable, free of discrimination, corruption and improper influence by public officials. It measures whether court proceedings are conducted without reasonable delays and if decisions are enforced effectively. It measures the accessibility, impartiality and effectiveness of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. The 2016 Index showed an increase in the number of countries listed from 102 to 113. Australia achieved a ranking of 14 for Factor 7.

Table 6 : KPI performance statement for Strategic Priority 3: Justice

KPIs Performance criterion(a) Target Result
Community impact Australia’s regional and global position on civil justice (Factor 7) in the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index measuring how the rule of law is experienced by the public of countries around the world Position 15 (maintain or improve current position) Position 14
Effectiveness in achieving objectives Stakeholder and client satisfaction with the department’s effectiveness in maintaining the Commonwealth justice system 80% 90%
Efficiency in meeting goals Civil justice policy advice, program work and legislative changes Work meets all requirements 94%
Professionalism, skills and commitment Stakeholder and client satisfaction with the professionalism, skills and commitment of staff involved in maintaining the Commonwealth justice system 80% 97%

(a) Performance criterion as per Corporate Plan 2016–17, p. 15 and Portfolio Budget Statements 2016–17, Program 1.1, p. 24, Program 1.4, p. 26, Program 1.5, p. 27, Program 1.6, p. 27 and Program 1.9, p. 29

The key activities under this strategic priority and associated measurement are detailed in Table 7.

Table 7 : Activity performance statement for Strategic Priority 3: Justice

Key activity Result
Develop options to implement a plebiscite on same-sex marriage ACHIEVED
The Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 passed the House of Representatives and an Exposure Draft Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill was released.
Continue to develop and implement ways to respond to family violence in the family law system ACHIEVED
The Family Advocacy and Support Services was established.
The Parenting Orders Handbook was finalised.
The Exposure Draft Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2017 was released for consultation.
ONGOING
Pilot programs commenced for the Women's Safety Package legal assistance and the legally-assisted and culturally appropriate family dispute resolution.
A family violence working group was developed to improve the interaction between the federal family law, and state and territory child protection and family violence systems.
Implement further reforms to the federal courts' systems to improve their efficiency and funding arrangements ONGOING
Stakeholder consultation and research has been undertaken.
Support implementation of the amalgamation of Commonwealth administrative law tribunals through leading inter-agency reviews of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s appropriation arrangements and the legislative framework governing practice and procedure at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal ONGOING
The project to harmonise practice and procedures in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal is continuing.
Support a review of the operation of the sunsetting regime that applies to legislative instruments ONGOING
The review of the operation of the sunsetting provisions commenced and will be completed prior to 1 October 2017.
Support ongoing development of commercial law and policy, including in areas of personal property securities and personal insolvency (bankruptcy) ACHIEVED
Amendments to the Personal Property Securities Act 2009 (Cth).
Insolvency Practice Rules (Bankruptcy) 2016 were completed and reforms to the regulation of corporate insolvency and personal bankruptcy were finalised.
Continue to ensure safe systems of cooperation among nations for intercountry adoption ONGOING
Close liaison with overseas and Australian authorities was maintained.

Analysis

Plebiscite on same-sex marriage

This year we developed the legislative package for the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 and the Exposure Draft Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016. The Plebiscite Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives in September 2016 and passed the House in October 2016. The Plebiscite Bill was debated in the Senate and voted down in November 2016.

We provided a submission to, and appeared before, the Senate Select Committee into the Exposure Draft Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016. The committee published its report in February 2017.

Expanding family violence protections

Australia's family law system helps people resolve the legal aspects of family relationship issues, including family relationship breakdowns. This year saw the allocation of significant government funding for programs targeting dispute resolution and family violence.

In 2016–17, we commenced a pilot program for specialist domestic violence units and health justice services as part of the Women’s Safety Package. These services build on traditional legal assistance models by requiring lawyers to partner with social workers and health professionals to deliver holistic, client-centred services. The program showed promising early results with over 530 women accessing services in the first half of 2016. The pilot was extended a further year to deliver to 11 community legal centres and expand the integrated specialist domestic violence units and health justice partnerships.

Under the Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010‑2022, eight Family Relationship Centres are piloting enhanced models of legally-assisted and culturally appropriate family dispute resolution to vulnerable families, particularly Indigenous and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse families who have experienced family violence.

We also successfully negotiated a variation to the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services 2015–20 with states and territories to provide funding to community legal centres for family law and family violence services. This was part of the 2017–18 Budget. The varied agreement took effect on 28 June 2017.

We administered funding to establish the Family Advocacy and Support Services (FASS) at 16 family law court locations. The service is designed to help self-represented litigants attending the family law courts with matters involving family violence. The FASS gives extra capacity to duty lawyer services, with the addition of social support services, to address non-legal issues alongside a client’s legal issues. Early reports indicate the FASS is filling an important need by providing a holistic approach to help people affected by family violence navigate state and federal court systems.

In December 2016, the Exposure Draft Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2017 was released for consultation. The Bill implements a number of recommendations from the Family Law Council Final Report on Families with Complex Needs and the intersection of the Family Law and Child Protection Systems. The report targeted improving the interaction between the family law system and the state and territory criminal justice and child protection systems.

We released the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book that provides guidance for judicial officers dealing with cases involving family violence. Implementation of the Bench Book will be supported by training for federal and state and territory judicial officers. This training will be available in 2017–2018.

Through the Law, Crime and Community Safety Council (LCCSC), we established a family violence working group with the states and territories to improve the interaction between the federal family law and state and territory child protection and family violence systems. The working group is chaired by the department and will make recommendations to LCCSC in 2018.

The department is providing the necessary support to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s comprehensive review of the family law system. This will ensure the family law system can respond effectively to family violence and meet the needs of families into the future. We are also supporting the government’s immediate law reform agenda. An exposure draft of amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) to ban the direct cross-examination of victims by their alleged perpetrator in the family law system has been released, and legislation is being developed to establish Parenting Management Hearings.

Amalgamating the administrative law tribunals

We have commenced an ongoing project to harmonise practice and procedures in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal following amalgamation and transition of its structure and responsibilities from 1 July 2015.

Reviewing the sunsetting regime for legislative instruments

As required by the Legislation Act 2003 (Cth), a review commenced into the operation of the sunsetting provisions.

This year we continued to experience a high volume of legislative instruments reaching a sunsetting date for the first time. We have managed this increased workload by prioritising activities to focus on this work.

Reforming personal property securities and insolvency (bankruptcy)

In May 2017, amendments to the Personal Property Securities Act 2009 (Cth) commenced. The changes mean that businesses using short-term leases will not need to make a personal property securities registration to protect their interest and priority in the property. This will free businesses from risks associated with absent or incorrect registrations.

The Insolvency Practice Rules (Bankruptcy) 2016 were made in December 2016. Together with the corresponding rules for corporate insolvency and the Insolvency Law Reform Act 2016 (Cth), the rules finalise reforms to the regulation of corporate insolvency and bankruptcy. The reforms promote market competition on price and quality and encourage greater transparency and communication between stakeholders.

Maintaining inter-agency adoption partnerships

We are the Australian Central Authority for the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention. This year we maintained our close liaison with overseas and Australian adoption authorities and facilitated systems of cooperation for intercountry adoption that comply with our Convention obligations.

We responded to approximately 255 enquiries from members of the public and adoption bodies during the year.

Increasing certainty in international civil law disputes

We are developing legislation to accede to the Hague Conference Choice of Court Convention (Instrument 37). This Convention provides harmonised rules for courts relating to exclusive choice of court agreements in international civil matters. The Convention also provides rules for the recognition and enforcement of judgments that are made pursuant to these agreements. New Australian legislation increases certainty for parties involved in international transactions and reduces the risk of unnecessary court costs by parallel proceedings.

We continue to engage in negotiations of a new Hague Conference Convention for the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters (Instrument 16). This Convention aims to establish an effective regime for the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments. It will provide parties with greater certainty about the enforceability of judicial decisions including against assets located abroad.

Improving and supporting the native title system

We continued work to improve the native title system, including increasing native title anthropology capacity through the Native Title Anthropologist Grants Programme. We also developed the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017 in response to the Full Federal Court of Australia’s decision in McGlade v Native Title Registrar. This decision cast doubt on the status of approximately 120 Indigenous Land Use Agreements and changed requirements for future agreements. The legislation was introduced in February 2017 and passed in June 2017, protecting the status of the Indigenous Land Use Agreements affected by the McGlade decision and ensuring future native title holders can determine who they want to sign agreements on their behalf.

Supporting Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants

The department continues to provide information and advice to marrying couples, marriage celebrants and people wanting to become a marriage celebrant. We continued to regulate over 8,500 Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants.

Other work

In 2016–17, we entered into a funding agreement with the Legal Services Commission of South Australia to provide seed funding to investigate the introduction of an online dispute resolution system for couples who are separating or divorcing in Australia. The Commission is managing this project through an agreed governance structure that includes representatives from National Legal Aid and Family and Relationship Services Australia. We continue to work with the legal assistance sector to explore how technology and artificial intelligence can provide efficiencies and improve access to justice.

We also successfully negotiated variations to the funding agreements with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services in each state and territory to provide additional funding for Indigenous legal services. This was part of the 2017–18 Budget. The varied agreements took effect on 22 June 2017.

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