Updates from the Bench

Consultation: Transparency in the Family Court

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In August we posted the President’s recent consultation paper which addresses the proposals for next steps in improving transparency in the Family Court.


I understand that any responses ought to be submitted by 3rd October 2014, although it is likely that responses will still be received and considered for some time after that date.  I have provided my own response and would strongly encourage others to do the same.  The consultation paper raises significant issues which require the input of practitioners “at the coal face”.


A copy of the consultation paper, which includes details of how to respond, can be downloaded here.


HHJ Clifford Bellamy

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Rule 16.4 Practice Guidance

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Leicester practitioners are reminded of the importance of compliance with the local practice guidance issued in September 2013 as to the use of FPR 16.4 Guardians in private law cases.  The guidance has been operating well thus far, ensuring that Cafcass are properly consulted before the appointment of a Guardian, and that children are only joined within the proceedings with proper justification.


The Guidance can be downloaded here.

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Practice Note – Listing Issues Resolution Hearings

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Although Leicester has performed impressively within the last year in reducing the average duration of public law cases, and many cases are now concluding within the statutory 26-week time limit, unfortunately court lists and the availability of final hearing dates is hampering this progress.


I have issued a practice note in relation to the listing of the IRH: all parties and the court should aim to list the IRH between week 18-20 wherever possible.  Hopefully this will allow for the earlier resolution of cases which need to be timetabled to a final hearing.


The practice note can be downloaded here.

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Local Practice Note – Timetable Extensions

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It has come to my attention that local practitioners are not correctly seeking, or recording the reasons for, extensions to the 26 week timetable for public law proceedings under s.32 Children Act 1989 (as amended).


Permission for extensions must be sought from the court if the case is going to proceed beyond the 26 week limit.  Each extension may only be made for up to 8 weeks.  Permission for any subsequent extension must also be sought; permission will only be granted for any extension if it is deemed by the court to be necessary to resolve the proceedings justly.  Extensions will not be granted routinely and must be justified with proper reasons.


It is essential that the court is able to keep track of the progress of each case and the reasons for each extension granted.  Advocates must be alive to the need to request extensions in the appropriate way and to properly record the reasons on the face of each order.  I have issued a local practice note which will apply with immediate effect in order to ensure consistent practice and remind advocates of the need to approach each case in this way.


The practice note can be downloaded here and is available in the Public Law section of the Resources page.

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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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