Fair handling of case
Court User Survey Results 2015 – http://www.familycourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fcoaweb/reports-and-publications/reports/2015/report-fluss-2015#_TOC_6
Way in which the case was handled was fair
Sixty six per cent of the interviewees considered the way their case was handled was fair. In 2011, the survey results indicated that 79 per cent of interviewees with hearings reported that their case had been handled fairly. The satisfaction level for those attending a hearing was the same for both the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court at 66 per cent.
While the overall satisfaction level was 66 per cent, there were underlying differences in satisfaction depending on the role type of the attendees at the hearing:
- Lawyers – 83 per cent.
- Applicants – 62 per cent (represented by lawyer 61% and without a lawyer 62%).
- Respondents – 53 per cent (represented by lawyer 55% and without a lawyer 46%).
Those interviewees who had attended for the first time were more likely to agree or strongly agree that the way in which the case was handled was fair (74%) as opposed to those who had attended several times or regularly (66% respectively).
Interviewees who identified as ATSI reported the lowest level of satisfaction. Only 60 per cent felt that the way their case had been handled was fair.
There were over 50 comments made by interviewees who had a negative perception of fairness:
“Judge treated the unrepresented party unfairly.”
“Not fair on father.”
“Registrar biased and unfair.”
“Feel applicant is treated unfairly.”
“Biased towards the mother ignore his side.”
However, almost one-in-four comments (24%) related to interviewees who had a positive perception of fairness:
“Judicial officer appeared fair and non-judgemental.”
“Registrar was fair.”
“The judicial officer was fair.”
Overall, the interviewees were satisfied that the judicial officer listened and led the hearing well (74%). This is lower than the 84 per cent satisfaction result recorded in 2011. In 2014, lawyers were the most satisfied, followed by applicants and respondents:
- Lawyers – 82 per cent.
- Applicants – 75 per cent (represented by lawyer 76% and without lawyer 72%).
- Respondents – 62 per cent (represented by lawyer 66% and without lawyer 63%).
There was only a two per cent variance between those interviewees who had attended for the first time (73%), those who attended regularly (74%) and those who had attended several times (75%).
The interviewees involved in divorce proceedings (77%), final/interim orders (74%) or ‘other’ matters (72%) were also similarly satisfied by how the judicial officer listened and led the hearing.
Qualitative data indicated the following around the area of leading of hearings and listening:
“Judge was cursory, failed to review evidence and disregarded information until final hearing.”
“Poor quality judicial performance – intemperate, slow, inconsistent practices, rude, petty, disorganised.”
“Judicial officer did not know what the case was about and didn’t read documentation submitted.”
“Judicial officers commonly will not allow you to present full details of the matter due to time pressures.”
There were almost as many interviewees who had a positive experience with judicial officers listening and leading hearings:
“Impressed with the way in which judges involved parties in the proceedings.”
“Happy with judge – explains things well to ensure you understand.”
“Judge took time to understand the issues.”
There was a higher level of dissatisfaction with the start time of matters with only 59 per cent of interviewees (including lawyers) having agreed or strongly agreed that their matter started on time. This result is below that in 2011 when it was 66 per cent. The perception that the courts do not start on time continues to be of concern to some court users.
When considering the role of the interviewee, the level of satisfaction with the start time of matters was greatest for lawyers (61%), followed by applicants (57%) and then respondents (52%). There was less variance when considering the frequency of the visits to court and type of matter heard. First time visitors were more satisfied (61%) than several time visitors (59%) and regular visitors (56%). Divorce proceedings resulted in higher levels of satisfaction with start time (61%) than final/interim orders (56%).
Interviewees attending a hearing in the Federal Circuit Court were slightly less satisfied with the start time of their matter (56%) than those in the Family Court (61%).
Of the interviewees who attended a hearing on the day, 80 per cent (compared to 88% in 2011) were satisfied that they were treated the same as everyone else.
Lawyers agreed or strongly agreed that they were treated the same as everyone else followed by applicants and then respondents:
- Lawyers – 86 per cent.
- Applicants – 80 per cent (represented by lawyer 81% and without a lawyer 77%).
- Respondents – 68 per cent (represented by lawyer 76% and without a lawyer 64%).
Frequency of attendance made very little difference to interviewees’ degree of satisfaction with several time visitors being the most satisfied (81%) followed by regular visitors (78%) and those attending for the first time (77%). Interviewees attending the Federal Circuit Court felt equally satisfied with being treated the same as those attending the Family Court (80% in each court).
Male interviewees were less likely to be satisfied that they were being treated the same as everyone else (74%) than the female interviewees (82%).
The starting time of matters is the main opportunity for improvement in this area of the survey. Handling cases fairly, listening and leading in the courtroom and having clients feel that they are treated the same as everyone else may be considered by the courts and are further discussed in Section 9.