Court bundle practice direction & impact on advocates’ payments
From 31st July 2014 FPR PD 27A para.5.1 comes into force. This requires that all court bundles in family proceedings must be limited to 350 pages of A4 paper in one ring binder. Exception to this rule will only be made when the court has specifically directed otherwise. The court will only direct that additional documents may form part of the court bundle if it is satisfied that this is necessary to enable to court to dispose of the proceedings justly.
Advocates are reminded of the importance of compliance with the very stringent conditions of the bundles practice directions, which can be found here. It is essential that advocates bear in mind that documents which previously habitually formed part of the court bundle will now no longer do so, unless the court specifically directs otherwise. This includes:
Bank and credit card statements and other financial records
Notes of contact visits
Foster carer logs
Social services files (with the exception of any assessments relied on)
Clearly there may still be many cases where documents within the class set out above will still be relevant evidence which is relied upon by one or more of the parties. Advocates should be astute at an early stage of the proceedings as to whether these documents ought to form part of the court bundle – or if it is anticipated that the court bundle will exceed 350 pages – and address this by seeking the appropriate permission from the Judge at the earliest opportunity wherever possible. This is likely to be the Case Management Hearing in public law cases, First Directions Appointment in financial relief cases, and the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment in private law children cases.
It won’t escape the attention of legal aid advocates that the reduction in the size of the court bundle will have an impact on the availability of bundle bolt-on payments under the Family Advocacy Scheme. The LAA will now make bundle payments on the basis of the advocates’ bundle, where this differs from the court bundle. Further information can be found here and the relevant regulation can be found here.
The MoJ has issued guidance on claims in these circumstances. The advocates’ bundle will contain all the documents served in accordance with the PLO. The pagination will remain the same throughout, and the pagination will be reproduced in the documents which form part of the court bundle; however, not all the documents which form part of the advocates’ bundle will form part of the court bundle. The contents of the court bundle are likely to change depending on the nature of the hearing and the relevant issues which fall to be addressed, but the advocates’ bundle will remain consistent throughout the duration of the case.
In order to claim an advocates’ bundle payment, the claiming advocate must have a copy of the advocates’ bundle index which is agreed by all parties and approved by the Judge, and must also submit a written explanation as to why the documents were required to be included in the bundle. It seems that this written explanation must also be endorsed by the Judge.
The MoJ has also stated that contact records will not form part of the advocates’ bundle – and therefore, no claim can be made for reading and considering them – unless they also form part of the court bundle. PD27A makes it clear that contact records will not habitually form part of the court bundle, unless the court directs otherwise. Advocates must be alive to the relevance of contact records, and if they are required to form part of the evidence necessary to the just determination of the case, must apply to the Judge for the appropriate permission for them to be included within the court bundle.