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.”