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The Financial Remedies Court: Latest Developments

Matthew Richardson, family barrister at Coram Chambers, provides an update on the progress of the Financial Remedies Court and highlights that rollout dates are soon to be announced.


Matthew Richardson is a family barrister at Coram Chambers

The project to introduce a specialist Financial Remedies Court across England and Wales. whereby there was a judicial ticketing exercise centred at Birmingham and those CJs, Recorders, DJs and DDJs who wanted to be involved opted into the pilot and undertook the work, has been underway since 1 April 2018.

Until last week, the last prominent news as to progress with the project came in July 2018 when the former President, Sir James Munby, published a circular (available here) announcing the planned expansion of the initial Birmingham trial to other regions, namely:

• East Midlands, centred at Nottingham.
• The whole of the West Midlands (including but not limited to the part in the initial pilot).
• Cheshire and Merseyside, centred at Liverpool (the extension of the pilot to Cheshire and Merseyside will enable the locally developed financial remedy protocol to be placed on a more formal footing and enhanced).
• North-east (1), centred at Sheffield.
• North-east (2), centred at Leeds.
• North-east (3), centred at Newcastle.
• London, centred at the CFC.
• South-east Wales, centred at Newport.
• South-west Wales, centred at Swansea.

A meeting took place on 10 October 2018 in Birmingham between some of the key people involved in the project to date to discuss how the Birmingham trial had gone. They included:

• The President of the Family Division
• HHJ Hess
• The Designated Family Judge
• The Designated Civil Judge
• The lead Judge (HHJ Robin Rowland)
• A number of the Birmingham civil judges
• The key HMCTS staff dealing with the pilot
• Representatives of the Association of District Judges

HHJ Edward Hess, one of the founders of the project, reported at last week's At A Glance conference that there was a positive consensus in the meeting that the Birmingham trial has gone well.

The plan had originally been that the Birmingham trial would be accompanied by trial runs in London and South Wales, but concerns expressed by some of the civil judges about a possible negative impact on the civil courts (due to the diversion of resources) meant that those other two initial trials were paused. HHJ Hess reported that there was agreement at the 10th October meeting that no such diversion of resources has come to pass and the possible impediment to further trials being rolled out elsewhere has been effectively addressed. At its heart, the plan intends that better use be made of resources such that family finance cases are dealt with more effectively and thus in fact the impact would be precisely the opposite.

This expansion comes not so much as a result of the project's tangible and measured positive impact – of course a full and proper impact assessment has not yet been completed since the trial is in its early stages – rather, what has happened as a result of the Birmingham meeting is the apparent reason not to expand the trial has been shown not to be a concern, and thus it can continue.

Therefore, HHJ Hess reported that the future of the Financial Remedies Court now brings the following:

• An announcement may be provided very shortly, now that the 'pause' on the rollout has been addressed, of dates for the expansion to the further regions
• Leadership judges for those regions will be announced
• The previously-planned Hearing Centres (particular courts within the regions that will house the FRC) will not be part of the rollout as there were concerns about people in some areas having poorer access to the FRC than others. Work will instead follow the judges who are part of the scheme

Other matters in development and on the horizon include:

• The digitisation of more and more parts of the family litigation process, including:
• A plan to digitise the way that consent orders are dealt with
• It will be one or two years before all Forms A are processed online
• Fuller and better data collection for smaller cases
• The extension of the use of private FDRs
• A possible reform of Form E (sadly details of what this might include were not given)

There are many working in financial remedies who are pleased to see such positive progress and who have high hopes for the future. It is good to see that more specific attention is being given to this specialist area of work and it is hoped that it will not be long before all clients across England and Wales can come to expect a previously unseen level of efficiency in the process and consistency of judicial approach, which can only lead to better outcomes for families.

12 October 2018

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