As a family law solicitor, it never ceases to amaze me how wasteful the court system is, in more ways than one. Anyone who has attended a hearing at court as part of their family proceedings, will have an idea of just how much paper is generated for those few hours at court. In reality, you have probably seen only a fraction of the paperwork actually generated and it may shock you to learn that following the hearing, the majority of the paper will simply be destroyed by the court. For any subsequent hearings, the paperwork has to be produced all over again.
For each hearing in the family court, lawyers are obliged to prepare a bundle of all the key documents for the Judge to refer to during the hearing. This is known as the court bundle. For one of my cases recently, it was an unusually large bundle of some 650 pages. Because the case was being heard by magistrates rather than a single district judge, we had to produce four copies of all the paperwork for the court (one for each magistrate and one for their legal advisor).
With four copies of the bundle each with 650 pages, this totalled 2,600 pages. Each party also had to have a copy. In this particular case, when we arrived at court, the parties were able to reach an agreement before they were called in before the magistrates and therefore all 2,600 pages were simply destroyed without being used.
When I consider the amount of paper wasted, not to mention the time involved in preparing the bundles and the carbon footprint of having to transport all that paper to the court, the current system of producing bundles really does seem to fly in face of our collective desire to reduce waste and save resources. Surely in this day and age where we can view any document on an electronic device, the need for paper bundles could be dispensed with?
Now is the time for electronic Court Bundles in family law cases
I’ve been preparing my court bundles in electronic format for many years. For me it is more precise than photocopying, results in neater looking bundles, is easier to use and store and is more cost effective for my clients. Whilst I could quite easily deliver my bundles to the court electronically, the courts have always insisted on receiving them in paper form. I have therefore had to print them and send them through the post to the court.
From a personal point of view, I was therefore delighted to learn that the family court is now trialling electronic bundles. Whilst this trial has only just begun, in my view in an age where we are increasingly told not to waste resources and to think of the environment before printing so much as an email, it seems only right that the courts should accept bundles (and indeed all documentation) in electronic format, which magistrates and judges can view on desk top machines or tablets.
First step in managing divorce proceedings online
This technological step for the courts is part of a larger move by the court system generally towards managing proceedings online. The government are pushing forward with their plans to make divorce proceedings almost entirely online within the next couple of years and to ultimately have an online court service.
Some might view this move towards increasing technology with apprehension, and with good reason, given that the changes to divorce and family proceedings over the last few years have so far only resulted in significant delays, many court forms more than doubling in length and court fees increasing by eye-watering amounts.
Despite all of this, I am cautiously optimistic that provided the government get the technology, procedure and investment right, the move towards a paperless system will in the long run help save our client’s significant costs and enable family lawyers and the courts to offer a more streamlined and efficient service.
Family law solicitor, Bicester