New court protocols empower practitioners with families

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A new set of protocols has been adopted by the Federal Circuit Court to better accommodate practitioners’ caring responsibilities.

New South Wales Bar Association president, Jane Needham SC said the protocols will give practitioners the ability to push back on a late notice court adjournment within reason, due to family or caring responsibilities. 

“In considering whether or not to set extended hours, it is relevant to consider the family or other carer responsibilities of the practitioner,” the protocol dictates.

Needham observed that court sitting hours, while generally consistent, present real challenges when the unexpected happens in litigation.

“What it really will do is it will assist people who are generally not the most powerful people in the courtroom,” said Needham.

“It empowers the junior practitioners because generally, it’s not going to be the QCs or the SCs with teenagers; it’s going to be the younger practitioners with younger families that need it. But equally, it applies to any kind of family; it’s not just a parent issue and it applies to the carers of elderly people, which affect older people as well.”

While in the past practitioners were able to excuse themselves due to a conflicting sitting or a meeting with another client, Needham said it’s important that the same flexibility is considered for commitments outside of work.

“It might be the younger women with families or it might be the more junior men, and it will empower them to know that their responsibilities will be taken into account even if they haven’t been able to raise their hands about that before,” she said.

Needham, who battled clashing commitments in her early career with young children, proposed the protocols around the predictability of sitting hours, which have now been approved by Chief Justice Tom Bathurst AC, and have subsequently been adopted by a number of other courts, even generating an international response.

“Most courts in NSW have adopted it or say they have principles which reflect it in any event. So it’s been not only a helpful exercise for judges to think about it but for courts to look at their procedures,” said Needham.  “We’ve had a really good response to this, I have to say a surprisingly good response.  It’s been really enthusiastically adopted.”
  • Suzanne Hadley on 27/04/2015 2:53:50 PM

    You hit the nail on the head dear colleague - 'Reasonably available' It is the unreasonable aspect that has given rise to the protocols which quite obviously have the courts support and blessing, But I have a blessing for you dear responder -may you never be frail except after 6pm; may no family member fall inconsiderately ill except after 7 or 8pm or on weekends; may no child of yours have an emergency/accident/nervous breakdown; may no illness beset you except after hours or weekends; may you never have your nearest and dearest be frail and in need of assistance that inconsiderately falls after 5 on a court day; may your home life always be perfect and capable of caring for itself at least until 8pm on weekdays;may no child of yours ever have an accident during working hours; may you never be called to an emergency ward before 7pm; may no funeral ever be scheduled on a court day; may your court calendar never conflict with an urgently scheduled prostate examination; may you have a life which revolves entirely around your court calendar - oh wait it sounds like that is your whole life - blessings

  • Pat Robinson on 27/04/2015 11:41:51 AM

    If it were not for problems the legal profession would have little reason to exist. The difference here is that a client pays for their lawyer to be reasonably available to ensure a resolution of their issues.

  • Suzanne Hadley on 27/04/2015 9:51:37 AM

    Hello? another person's problem is precisely your problem because [a] you, presumably, are in the legal profession and earn your living from such problems, and [b] there is a wider issue here . Lawyers should also expect to receive courtesy and compassion in the practice of their profession while pleading for it to be demonstrated to their clients. It is nto only the young lawyer balancing his/her family commitments but older practitioners trying to do the same thing, or even perhaps, manage their own health problems while struggling to retain their commitment to the practice of law against tough odds. Lawyers, despite all the jokes, are not automatons, robots dedicated to dissecting legal issues - but thinking living humans with family responsibilities just like the rest of our society- one with which it would appear, dear responder, you are completely out of touch. The century is now 2000, not 1800. Arrogance and lack of empathy are no longer in style.

  • Pat Robinson on 27/04/2015 9:31:39 AM

    I am so tired of this nonsense. Another persons issues should not become my problem and likewise mine should not become theirs.

  • L Lyon on 24/04/2015 12:45:31 PM

    agree wholeheartedly. I was once told by a Court associate to keep my mobile phone on vibrate while attending a funeral even after telling the Court I was at a funeral and had sought an adjournment in advance of the funeral which was on same day as the Directions Hearing.

  • Suzanne Hadley on 24/04/2015 10:53:39 AM

    what a compassionate approach long overdue. There were many times when I struggled to balance my disabled husband's care requirements and my court commitments. I felt the same anxiety as a young parent worried about getting to a child after hours. Long overdue consideration - the Family Court is after all designed to take into account family needs - too often the Court has kept unfamily friendly hours with unintended consequences not just for the litigants.

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