Proposals to modernise family justice and a timetable on when measures will be implemented have been published. It follows the long-awaited Family Justice Review in November after which Mr Justice Ryder was tasked with looking at the recommendations and considering their implementation.
There are, of course, many points in the Report and I will not attempt to summarise all of them. However, I will pick up on a couple of points that leapt out at me.
A single Family Court as a good idea is doubtless a shock to many: I bet most people (other than lawyers) assume that is the case already. Why on earth would you have more than one? The reality is though that there are family courts in both magistrates and crown courts, often operating in different ways. The new proposals would see there effectively being one court, managed by the judiciary, and cases being heard in the same family court hub in each area, ie the same court room. There is certainly a good deal of sense in having one court arrangement and the admin, procedures, judge’s attitudes and the rules are all the same. Seems obvious but common sense can so often be lacking in the legal sector it seems.
I do hope the chance will be taken also to ensure that the court will accept email (it is 2012 after all and email has been widely used for about 15 years!) and that they will have enough staff so that our poor clients don’t have to be messed around for weeks and weeks just waiting for a reply or something to be done.
Some of our clients have been worried by the amount of “help” that people representing themselves are given by some judges. It can give the impression that the judge prefers one party and that doesn’t help in getting a settlement. Of course, the opposite can also be true where judges frustrated by a minor error on paperwork filed may send one or other party away until they have resubmitted documents, when really it could have been amended there and then and the case progressed. Therefore, the idea of having clear guides as to what help is given will be helpful.
I hope the new system will recognise that, by far, the majority of divorce cases are kept out of a final court hearing by the lawyers mediating or negotiating a settlement. We settle the vast majority of cases for our clients like this. As part of these changes, there should be further encouragement for people to reach agreement without ever having to take up court time, giving a more modern and realistic outlook on the whole process.