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The Family Court of Australia and Federal Court of Australia have launched a new project designed to enhance the health and safety of litigants as they navigate the family law system.

As LSJ previously forecast in November last year, it’s known as The Lighthouse Project and relies on four key components: early risk screening through a secure online platform, early identification of safety concerns, assessment and triage of cases by a specialist team who will assist with case management, and referral of high-risk cases to a dedicated court list.

“When we designed this risk-screening process, we did a jurisdictional review to look at what was happening in courts around the world, and all family courts are experiencing the same issues – that is, high numbers of cases with family violence,” said Lisa O’Neill, a senior registrar at the Family Court.

The initiative aligns with the merger of the two courts, which officially begin operation on 1 September.

It’s one of many changes announced during The Law Society of NSW’s annual Specialist Accreditation Conference, held virtually on 5 August. The conference encompassed a full day of programming in each sector of business law, employment and industrial law, family law, personal injury, property law, and wills and estates.

“These are certainly strange times in which we are still living,” said Juliana Warner, President of The Law Society of NSW, in an address. “This conference is such a staple of the [specialist accreditation] scheme’s operation and I am heartened that, notwithstanding the current public health challenges, our expert speakers will still be heard by an appreciative community of specialists.”

Discussion focused on numerous hot topics, such as Sydney’s booming property market.

Business lawyers dived into the judgement in BP7 v. Gavancorp, a decision handed down in the Supreme Court of NSW in March 2021. It discussed the matter of “call options”, which gives the purchaser the right to buy property at the exercise price at or within a specified time, and “put options”, which gives the vendor the right to sell the property at the exercise price at or within specified time.

The matter dates back to 2018 when there was a strata block of 14 units at Cronulla. The developers and vendors exchanged put and call options for the sale of the whole block – but there were 14 different deeds. They were all interrelated, so exercise of one had to occur at the same time as the others.

When the deal ran into difficulties, the distinction between put and call options became critical. The cooling off periods became a source of contention, making it clear that vendors must always obtain a standard section 66W certificate if they plan to act on a put and call option in a contract of sale.

“All of us are familiar with what used to be called the Green Pages or the Blue Pages of the standard contract for sale, and are familiar with the standard certificates which must be provided. Plastered all over those pages are the warning notices, and similarly for options, there are warning notices,” said Geoff Farland, a barrister at University Chambers. “That should give every practitioner cause to pause and ask, ‘Have I dealt with that cooling off regime effectively in this contract?’”

Employment lawyers, meanwhile, dove into disability and employment.

About 2.1 million Australians with a disability are currently of working age and 53 per cent are employed full-time. However, many people living with disabilities still face segregation in the workplace. Human rights and employment law barrister Kate Eastman SC said lawyers should be asking key questions about inherent requirements of each job.

How are they determined? How are reasonable adjustments determined? Who determines them? Is it always necessary to rely on evidence from medical practitioners and allied health professionals? Can you rely on an employee being able to describe what they can and can’t do and relying on their word?

“For some people, this might be the last frontier in relation to inclusion,” she said. “This area is often overlooked when we look at other areas of discrimination law, particularly in the current climate of looking at our response to sexual harassment and sex discrimination.”

For more information about becoming a NSW accredited specialist visit