Access to court reports - advice

This advice provides information about the limitations on access to court reports.

Document ID number 2233, version 3, 27 September 2018.

Introduction

The Children, Youth and Families Act (CYFA) restricts access to court reports and sets out by when and to whom the various types of reports prepared for the Children’s Court are to be lodged and provided to parties.

It also makes provision for part or the whole of a report to be withheld in certain circumstances.

Inform CPLO or your divisional legal officer immediately if you wish to withhold access to any part of or all of a court report from any of the parties to the proceedings.

Consistent with the decision-making principles (s. 11, CYFA), court reports are to be discussed with the child and parents prior to their distribution to parties. This allows the child and parents an opportunity to comment on the contents of the report and may assist their having greater understanding, and consequently in avoiding a contested hearing.

Protection and disposition report

Protection report and disposition reports can only be distributed (s. 556 and s. 559, CYFA) to:

  • the child who is the subject of the report
  • the child’s parents
  • the child’s and parents’ legal representatives
  • a party to the proceeding
  • the protective intervener who made the protection application, if the protective intervener is not the Secretary; and
  • any other person specified by the Court.

However, this does not prevent the Secretary, a lawyer representing the department, another protective intervener, an honorary youth justice officer or youth parole officer, from being given, or having access to the report, or part report (s. 552, CYFA).

Upon application by any of the above, the Court may order child protection to withhold the report or part of it from the child or their parent or any other person specified by the Court, if the Court is satisfied that information in the report, or the part of the report, may be prejudicial to the physical or mental health of the child or a parent of the child.

If the Court makes such an order it is an offence for any person who receives a copy of the report to provide it, or any of its content to a person that the Court has ordered it to be withheld from.

The report is to be lodged at court and provided to the parties not less than three working days prior to the hearing (s. 554, CYFA). Failure to comply may lead to costs being awarded against the department.

Copies of the court report cannot be provided to any other person without the Court’s permission, and this includes foster care agencies and non-government organisations.

A person who prepares or receives or otherwise is given or has access to a report, or any part of a report, must not, without the permission of the child or young person or parent, disclose any information contained in that report or part report to anyone who is not entitled to receive or have access to that report or part report without the Court’s permission (s. 552, CYFA).

Additional reports

Additional reports such as extension reports and breach reports, must be provided to the parties listed above and provided not less than three working days prior to the hearing (s. 561, CYFA).

However, the author of an additional report is not required to forward the report to the parties, either in part or full, if they are of the opinion that the information contained in the report may be prejudicial to the physical or mental health of the child or young person or the parents (s. 556(2), CYFA).

If you do not forward the report to a party, you are required to notify the Court by completing ‘Form 35: Application to restrict access to a report’ which can be found in Court owned forms. The Court may order that the report be forwarded to the excluded party in part or whole.

Inform all parties of the intention to deny access to part or all of the court report and complete the letter ‘To parent re withholding of part/all court report’ which can be found in Letters re Children’s Court and protection orders.

Children’s Court Clinic reports

A copy of a report prepared by the Children's Court clinic must be provided to the Children's Court between three and 21 days prior to the hearing (s. 562, CYFA).

The court must release a copy of the report to the Secretary, the legal representative of the Secretary or an employee authorised by the Secretary to appear in the Family Division, the subject child, the child's parent, the child's legal representative, the parent's legal representative, the police (if they made the protection application), a party to the proceedings and any other person specified by the Court.

If the Court is satisfied that the release of the report or a particular part of the report to the Secretary may cause significant psychological harm to the child, the Court may:

  • refuse to release the report or part of the report to the Secretary
  • determine a later time for the release of the report or part of the report to the Secretary
  • release the report to the Secretary anyway.

Therapeutic treatment and therapeutic treatment (placement) application reports

Copies of a therapeutic treatment application report or therapeutic treatment (placement) report prepared by a child protection practitioner must be provided before the hearing of the proceeding to the subject child, the child's parent, the child's legal representative, the parent's legal representative, the police (if they made the protection application), a party to the proceeding, any other person specified by the court (s. 566 and S. 570, CYFA).

Upon application by any of the above, the Court may order child protection to withhold the report from the child or their parent or any other person specified by the Court, if the Court is satisfied that information in the report, or the part of the report, may be prejudicial to the physical or mental health of the child or a parent of the child.

If the Court makes such an order it is an offence for any person who receives a copy of the report to provide it, or any of its content to a person that the Court has ordered it to be withheld from.

Interstate transfers of protection orders and proceedings

Schedule 1 clause 26 of the CYFA stipulates that any information collected by the child protection practitioner in the performance of their duties may be disclosed to an interstate officer. This includes information in relation to the transfer of child protection orders and proceedings between Victoria and another state or territory of Australia or between Victoria and New Zealand.

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