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View from the President’s Chambers: May 2019

In his latest View from the President's Chambers, Sir Andrew McFarlane provides an 'overview' of the current state of affairs in respect of the Family Justice system.

Court visits
The President has visited 24 courts and by mid-June will have spent a day at another nine. He aims to have visited all courts by October, or early November. On the subject of collective well-being of those working in the system, Sir Andrew says that "it is crystal clear that there is indeed a need to own up to the impact of the current workload in emotional, social and physical terms on each of us in whatever role we play in the Family Justice system." However, he is heartened by "the surprisingly good level of morale" observed in the majority of places despite the increased burden.

The Public and Private Law Working Groups
Sir Andrew has set out broadly the work of these two groups in keynote addresses on public law to the ALC Conference in November 2018 and on private law to the Resolution Conference in April 2019. He stresses that any change in practice must come "organically from across the professions and be developed in partnership rather than being imposed from above" and that there is a need to work in partnership with all involved whether they be lawyers in private practice, or professionals working in CAFCASS, HMCTS, the Legal Aid Agency, the MOJ or DfE.

Financial Remedy Court
Sir Andrew notes that reports of the progress of the Pilot for the Financial Remedy Court at Birmingham continue to be entirely positive. The Pilot is being rolled out in a further nine areas and he would be happy to approve its adoption in any additional areas which indicate that they are ready to do so.

Divorce Service Centres
Sir Andrew is confident that the senior staff at HMCTS are "entirely clear that the unacceptable service levels currently experienced from the paper-based centres is not to be repeated" as the new national Civil and Family Service Centre at Stoke on Trent takes on more of the work of the Divorce Service Centres.

Court of Protection
The President supports the lobbying of the Vice-President of the Court of Protection, Hayden J, for the Rules Committee to be put on a statutory basis.

Forthcoming Practice Guidance
In early June the President will issue Practice Guidance on Short Form Court Orders in Children Cases. Following the recent decision of Sir James Munby in M v P [2019] EWFC 14, Sir Andrew is preparing Practice Guidance on Defective Divorce Petition/Decrees to replace the interim Guidance on this topic issued by Sir James on 23 April 2018. For the President's draft Practice Guidance on the approach to be taken where a journalist or legal blogger attends a Family Court hearing and applies for the statutory reporting restrictions to be lifted, click here.

The Reform Programme
Irrespective of the progress of 'Reform', Sir Andrew considers that the Family Court should be making fuller use of the current technology to conduct short, without notice, hearings by telephone, as is now commonplace in small civil claims.

There will be established a 'Transparency Review', during which all available evidence and the full range of views on this important topic can be considered (including evidence of how this issue is addressed in other countries). The aim of the review will be to consider whether the current degree of openness should be extended, rather than reduced.

For the full View, click here.