Australia: National Court Framework aims for procedural consistency

Last Updated: 14 January 2015
Article by Craig Holland

In brief - Reform will improve Federal Court's efficiency and effectiveness

A fresh approach to case management, internal restructuring and more effective use of judicial expertise are among the Federal Court reforms outlined in the National Court Framework, due to be rolled out in late 2014.

Pre-trial practice and procedures to be challenged

The framework seeks to achieve national procedural consistency across the court and use judicial expertise to create a truly national court and profession. The court will be divided into eight national practice areas, with a national consulting judge being appointed to oversee each practice area.

Practitioners, particularly in the commercial dispute space, should be prepared to let go of habitual procedural practices and engage with the real issues in the case from the outset. The framework will challenge the existing pre-trial practice and procedures and strip away the unnecessary layers of complexity. Practitioners will be expected to avoid trivial procedural disputes and focus on the real issues at hand.

Federal Court must preserve its role in region's justice system

In a speech delivered in Sydney in November 2014, the Chief Justice emphasised the important role the court holds in the Asia Pacific region's system of justice.

Speaking specifically about commercial growth in the region, the Chief Justice set out that the court must adapt to preserve its place as a leading international jurisdiction and strengthen the rule of law in the region.

The framework seeks to achieve this goal by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the court through procedural reform. This will include a fresh approach to case management, an internal restructure and using judicial expertise within eight new national practice areas.

The reform must ensure that the Federal Court is perceived to be a consistent and cost-effective legal institution that is supplemented by a highly capable national legal profession.

Case management reforms to create time and cost efficiencies

The reforms focus on ensuring a uniform approach to case management by removing any perceived geographic idiosyncrasies that have developed in the existing system.

The entrenched approach to judicial case management will be upturned and focus directed to creating a consistent yet flexible approach to case management, particularly in commercial disputes which account for 40% of the court's cases.

Practitioners should be prepared for the new framework to challenge long-established, almost ritualistic, pre-trial steps and procedures of the current system. For example, discovery can no longer be taken for granted as a critical step.

In short, the framework aims to strip away unnecessary layers of complexity and have the parties identify and engage in the real issues from the beginning, with a view to decreasing the time and cost it takes to get a matter to hearing.

In a departure from the traditional docket system, the court will now formally consider the character of a matter as part of allocation. Sequential allocation, within the respective eight new specialty areas, will still be the primary method of allocation. However, regard will also be given to the nature, urgency and complexity of a dispute prior to allocation to a judge.

Federal Court to be divided into eight new practice areas

The court will be divided into eight practice areas:

  1. Administrative, Human Rights and Constitutional
  2. Native Title
  3. Commercial and Company, with six subgroups:
    • Commercial
    • Company
    • Insolvency and corporate and personal bankruptcy
    • Regulator and consumer protection
    • Competition (antitrust and access)
    • International commercial arbitration
  1. Tax
  2. Intellectual Property, with three subgroups:
    • Patents
    • Trademarks
    • Copyright and industrial design
  1. Industrial Relations and Labour
  2. Admiralty and Maritime
  3. Criminal Cartels

National consulting judges to oversee each practice area

National consulting judges will be appointed to each practice area to ensure judicial expertise and consistency.

Judges will predominantly hear cases within their speciality areas, but not exclusively, as there is a desire to ensure that the bench maintains its breadth of experience and that the expertise of individual judges does not become too narrow. There will be opportunity for judges to gain experience in the specialty areas that are of particular interest to them.

The new framework will involve the use of fully searchable electronic files. The state registries will remain, but there will be national practice areas.

Uniform approach to registry and administration

National consulting judges will oversee the administration of the practice areas nationally at both the judicial and registry level. A national operations registrar will be tasked with administrative conduct of the court, including allocation and reallocation of cases depending on workloads.

Skilled registrars will preside over the specialty lists. Registrars will be overseen by the consulting judges to ensure that a nationally uniform approach is applied.

New practice notes to help expedite the process

New practice notes are being prepared. There will be a central "general" practice note supplemented by subject specific notes. In theme with the framework, the practice notes will focus on how an outcome should be brought about without becoming bogged down in the process. The emphasis will be on engagement with the real issues from the start and explaining what is expected of practitioners.

Early initial scheduling conferences will be fixed, we expect usually 45 days after the initiating application is filed. The court will be aiming to fix trials within six months of the initial scheduling conference. Judgements will be issued within three to six months of a hearing. If there is a delay, the court will inform the parties when they may expect judgement.

Reducing costs of getting commercial disputes to hearing is a key goal

One of the key goals of the new framework is to reduce the cost it takes to get commercial disputes to hearing. To minimise disputes surrounding costs, the court will be encouraging lump-sum costs orders.

Duty judge arrangements will remain as they are. The Chief Justice expressed that it is desirable to keep these arrangements relatively similar to the Supreme Courts in each state for simplicity.

The Commercial and Company list will begin in late 2014. The balance of the lists will commence by April 2015.

Melissa Fenton Craig Holland
Commercial litigation
CBP Lawyers

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Craig Holland
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.