The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA) has commenced a new program to broaden accessibility to technology to regional areas in Tasmania.
This pilot program is designed to reduce the stress and costs associated with court proceedings, which are generally located in major Tasmanian cities. Electronic hearings have several socio-economic and environmental benefits, the biggest being that more people have flexible access to the judicial system. Especially in family law hearings, parties will be able to utilise technology to access justice strategically and freely.
This program was also escalated due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The FCFCA has noted that it has been using the Microsoft suite during the pandemic and has now recognised the necessity to permanently extend the use of electronic court proceedings into the future.
This initiative has already been utilised in three cases, where parties live several hours from major cities, have no access to public transport, and have no internet connection. In these cases, the FCFCA is receiving support from external service providers, such as local libraries or community centres, to enable the parties to engage in the proceedings in a meaningful way. Following these three preliminary cases, the FCFCA will review the judicial process and seek public feedback. The FCFCA will have until mid to late 2022 to determine whether this program is feasible and worthwhile to be applied in Tasmania.
The impacts of COVID-19 will continue to reshape our society and the legal system. However, it is fantastic to see that individuals are using this to also enable access to justice and benefit people in already difficult positions. Hopefully, this program will be adopted throughout other remote areas across Australia and expand to other divisions of court proceedings.