Updates from the Bench

13th View from the President’s Chambers

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The 13th View from the President’s Chambers has been published.  It can be downloaded from the President’s page here.

 

The “View” focusses primarily upon:

The recent reports from the Financial Remedies Working Group and the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group

The President’s Transparency Consultation Paper

The work of the Family Justice Young People’s Board

The unresolved issue of expert funding in family cases and assistance for litigants in person

His suggestions for reform of the process of divorce and financial relief proceedings

The ongoing process of standardisation of draft court orders

 

The President also speaks in praise of the Family Court Practice (“Red Book”) and its publishers Jordan Publishing as an essential text for family lawyers.

 

The guidance document published by Advicenow with respect to financial remedy proceedings is available to download from our Information and Advice Centre.

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Local Bundles PD Issued

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Advocates and Judges alike will be aware of the recent implementation of all parts of FPR PD27A, and in particular, the requirement that court bundles be limited to 350 pages.  Further information can be found here.

 

I propose to issue a local practice direction in order to assist advocates and the court in managing the new expectation that there be separate “Court Bundles” and “Advocates’ Bundles” with the intention of standardising practice and assisting with advocates’ payments under the Legal Aid Family Advocacy Scheme.

 

The Local Practice Direction is to be applied from 1st September 2014 and can be found here.  The PD is also available to download from the Resources page.  I welcome any comments and feedback about its effectiveness.  I will be meeting with the two area Local Authorities prior to the Practice Direction’s implementation to canvass their views.

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Importance of complying with court orders

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In previous newsletters I have highlighted the comments made by the President in Re W (A Child) Re H (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1177 concerning the importance of complying with court orders. He said (para 53),

 

‘Let me spell it out. An order that something is to be done by 4 pm on Friday, is an order to do that thing by 4 pm on Friday, not by 4.21 pm on Friday let alone by 3.01 pm the following Monday or sometime later the following week. A person who finds himself unable to comply timeously with his obligations under an order should apply for an extension of time before the time for compliance has expired. It is simply not acceptable to put forward as an explanation for non-compliance with an order the burden of other work. If the time allowed for compliance with an order turns out to be inadequate the remedy is either to apply to the court for an extension of time or to pass the task to someone else who has available the time in which to do it.’

 

Practitioners need to be aware of the latest pronouncement by the President, underlining the point set out above. In Re W (Children) [2014] EWFC 22 in which he said (para 19) that:

 

‘I repeat what I said in In re W. I emphasise that the parties in cases in the Family Court are not permitted to amend a timetable fixed by the court without the prior approval of the court. I emphasise the obligation on every party, spelt out (as in this case) in the standard form of case management order, to inform the Court “immediately” in the event of any non-compliance. That obligation is imposed for good reason, though too often, as in the present case, it also is not complied with.’

 

I cannot emphasise too strongly how important it is to comply with the President’s guidance. Parties cannot amend a timetable fixed by the court without the prior approval of the court. That does not mean that parties may not make a joint approach to the court for approval of a variation of the timetable to which they are all agreed. Any such approach to the court must indicate whether the proposed amendment to the timetable will affect the overall timetable of the case and in particular any date fixed for IRH and/or final hearing. Joint applications for an amendment to the timetable which will not impact on the overall length of the case or on the date fixed for an IRH or final hearing are likely to be approved by the court without the need for a further hearing. Any application to approve an amendment to the timetable which impacts upon the overall length of the case or on the date fixed for an IRH or final hearing will be listed for hearing before the allocated case management judge.

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Contact centres and their role in proceedings

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All of the contact centres in our area are supported contact centres and not supervised contact centres. Supported contact centres are staffed by volunteers. For many families these centres are a valuable resource, enabling children to meet with a parent in an environment that is child-friendly and safe. The volunteers who so generously give of their time are there to facilitate contact and not to supervise that contact, form judgments about the quality of the contact or make notes about what they have observed. The only circumstance in which it may be appropriate for a court to order a volunteer from a contact centre to attend court to give evidence is where that volunteer has witnessed a serious incident (e.g. an assault by one parent on the other) and her evidence is required as a witness of fact to enable the court to make findings in respect of that incident. It follows from this that is also wholly inappropriate to order a contact centre to disclose copies of its records, logs or other documents.

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Welcome!

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Welcome to LLFJB.com and to my “Updates from the Bench”.

 

Many readers will already be familiar with the newsletters which I have produced on a monthly basis for local professionals over the course of the last year.  I am delighted to say that I will now be able to use these posts to update practitioners quickly and regularly, in order that we may all keep up with the rapid pace of change which the family justice system is currently undergoing.

 

This means that I will be doing my “bit”, now it is time for you to do yours!  The process of collaborative and co-operative progressive working which we hope to achieve through this website will only be achievable if we all pull together.  I would be most grateful if all local practitioners – solicitors, barristers, mediators, social workers, Cafcass officers, court staff, judiciary and magistrates – try to make full use of the site, and also make any suggestions for content.  I know that those tasked with maintaining and updating the website will be most grateful for any of your comments, and if you are aware of an upcoming event, news story of interest, schemes being implemented in different courts, a noteworthy case or even a pertinent piece of research or a publication, then please let us know by using the “Contact Us” page.

 

HHJ Clifford Bellamy

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