Judges from the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) have travelled to Alice Springs to listen and learn from Aboriginal families, in what has been described as “a rare and invaluable opportunity”.
More than 80 FCFCOA judges travelled to the Northern Territory for two-way learning with regional communities following a plenary event held earlier this year.
Each year, divisions 1 and 2 of the FCFCOA conduct a plenary event to allow for judicial education and training, which have historically been held in city locations.
For this year’s plenary, which was held in June this year, the Honourable Chief Justice William Alstergren AO wanted to prioritise courts better engaging and learning from regional and outback communities — and stepped away from the city-centric approach.
“Conducting a judicial event that involves the vast majority of our judges travelling from every state and territory of the nation to meet in Alice Springs is unprecedented. The next few days present a rare and invaluable opportunity for the judges to be properly educated and to gain an appreciation of the challenges faced by First Nations Australians,” he said.
“This event provided an extremely rare opportunity for the judges to speak directly with Indigenous families and, in turn, expand their knowledge of and experience with those living in remote communities. The courts have also demonstrated support for and contribute to the local economy and the people living in and around Alice Springs.”
The judges have, so far, participated in two community visits, one to Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and one to Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa). Local leaders and community members met with the judges and participated in meaningful community engagement, yarning circles, a tour of the community, school and church visits and planting of a wattle tree in each location to mark the occasion.
“Our courts operate in each major city and most regional areas across Australia. As national courts, we are committed to serving all Australians, including being relevant and accessible to First Nations people,” Alstergren J added.
“We have a proud history of dedicated specialist Indigenous lists and other initiatives that focus on this commitment.”
As part of the courts’ commitment to serve First Nations people, highly skilled Indigenous family liaison officers (IFLOs) are employed across the country and are another step towards facilitating a strong and meaningful connection between the Indigenous communities and the family law system. IFLOs have a strong focus on helping and supporting families understand and engage with court processes and are available to connect parties to legal and other support services.
IFLOs have also recently been engaging in outreach to talk to the community and the profession with the aims of increasing the visibility of the role and educating the community about the FCFCOA process as an alternative to the child protection systems, Alstergren J added.
“The advice of two Indigenous family liaison officers (IFLOs) employed by the courts, one of whom is a native title holder in Alice Springs, has been instrumental in the planning of the event,” he said.
“We are also grateful to have developed a positive professional relationship with Mr Charlie King in recent months, whose assistance and guidance [have] been invaluable for the planning and execution of this event, which has been an incredible experience for all involved.”