How does a Case Assessment Conference work?
A Case Assessment Conference, often referred to as a CAC, is a form of negotiation which aims to resolve a legal dispute before it goes to trial.
It is exclusively held via direction from the Federal Circuit or Family Court of Australia (FCFCA), for matters that deal with children. The CAC is a crucial step in the legal process, allowing procedures to be specialised for particular cases and aiding the parties in avoiding the time and expense of a full trial, and reaching a fair and satisfactory resolution for all involved.
The CAC is typically held in a conference room and is presided over by a neutral third party, such as a Family Consultants, referred to as a Registrar. The conference must be attended by each party to the dispute along with their respective lawyers. In some cases a court appointed Independent Children’s Lawyer may also take part.
During the conference, each party presents their side of the case and their proposed resolution. The Registrar will then work to identify any areas of agreement and to narrow the issues in dispute, facilitating a dialogue between the parties and helping them reach a mutually acceptable agreement.
It is important to note that much of what is discussed during this process is not confidential meaning that any information disclosed or discussed may be brought before a court as evidence.
Who is involved in a Case Assessment Conference?
Individual’s and Legal Representation (Party Lawyers)
Both the applicant and respondent will be accompanied by legal representation. However, parties are encouraged to speak for themselves in conversations with the Registrar as to foster engagement and open dialogue.
Judicial Officer (JO)
Judicial officers are judges presiding over the case; they are not involved in the CAC itself, but merely set it in motion. It is the JO that will solidify any legally binding agreement or later court order.
Family Consultant (or Registrar)
Family Consultants are not Lawyers or Judges, but have expertise in areas such as Psychology or Social Work. They are knowledgeable about Court procedures and dispute resolution, and primarily provide over CAC’s concerning Children.
Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL)
An Independent Children’s Lawyer may be appointed by the court to represent the interests of the children involved. This is especially the case where disputes are particularly intense, or where a child’s views are brought into question and the child is able to express their own opinion. ICLs may aid the Family Consultant in collecting and compiling information from the relevant parties, and assisting in negotiating amicable settlement.
What are the steps?
A CAC is scheduled based on the discretion of the Judicial Officer preceding over a case. This will typically be done in order to narrow the scope of issues being argued, to solidify what each party is attempting to attain, and to evaluate the situation so that steps can be taken to protect and care for all parties and children involved.
A Registrar, generally a Family Consultants, will be appointed by the court to preside over the procedure. They will be informed of all relevant matters, and will have access to all resources and evidence necessary to conduct the Assessment.
The CAC will typically be scheduled 4-6 weeks following the initial hearing, however this may vary based on the urgency of resolution, or any limiting factors of the court.
What should you expect at a Case Assessment Conference?
On the day of the CAC each party must attend, along with their legal representation. They should be prepared with all relevant notes and evidence necessary to discuss the matter, and should have discussed each matter with their Lawyer. Each party should be aware that the full procedure may last quite a while.
The Registrar will begin by meeting with each party separately, in order to gauge both sides of the story, and to discuss each individual’s desires and willingness to compromise. At this stage they will be available to answer any questions or concerns that each party may have.
If it is deemed to be safe and useful they will meet with all parties together, and lead a dialogue by which some or all matters of contention may be addressed.
Conclusions of a Case Assessment Conference
The conference will end either when an agreement has been reached, when negotiation ceases to progress, or when a specified time limit is reached.
It is the Registrar’s job to assess the situation and record any agreements, interactions, discussions, and findings of the CAC. They will then outline what will happen going forward, communicating the steps that will likely follow.
Regardless of if an agreement is reached, the Family Consultant will compile a report summarising their interactions, discussions, and findings. A report may include recommendations such as but not limited to; seeking new evidence, referring parties to programs to address underlying issues, or outlining preliminary agreements for taking care of children. This report will be presented to the Judicial Officer and will be considered when making a decision in the case.
The CAC will conclude with a procedural hearing, where agreements are to be transposed into legally binding documents. Both Parties must consent to any agreement, before it can become legally binding. If a settlement has not been reached, the case will proceed to trial, following procedures laid out by the Judicial Officer overseeing the hearing.
If you are in need of any legal advice, or are looking for help with a Dispute. Feel free to contact us.
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