A week in family law: Court supporters, digital divorce, and more

Family Law|Industry News|March 4th 2016

This week’s family law news was dominated by stories relating to the future of the family justice system…

The first story is actually one that I overlooked last Friday, but that I think is worthy of a mention, particularly in the context of the future conduct of family disputes. It is the decision of Mr Justice Mostyn in the case DB v DLJ. The case concerned a husband’s application for the wife to show cause why an award made in arbitration should not be made into an order of the court. The wife resisted the application, saying that the award was vitiated [rendered legally invalid] by a mistake about the true value of a property in Portugal allocated to her or, alternatively, that events had occurred since the award which invalidated the finding made by the arbitrator as to the value of that property. In a decision that has been welcomed by family arbitrators, Mr Justice Mostyn found in favour of the husband, saying that a party who had signed up to arbitration had “very limited rights of challenge” to the award of the arbitrator. Family law arbitration is, of course, a service offered by Stowe Family Law.

A consultation paper proposing reforms to the existing guidance for McKenzie Friends has been issued by the Judicial Executive Board. The paper contains a number of proposals including the replacement of the term ‘McKenzie Friend’ with a different term such as ‘Court Supporter’, the introduction of a code of conduct for McKenzie Friends that they would be required to agree to comply with, and a prohibition upon McKenzie Friends charging a fee for their work. I have set out my views upon these proposals in this post.

The Court of Appeal should rule upon the disagreement amongst High Court judges regarding how much the public should be told about financial remedy cases following divorce, Mr Justice Moor has suggested. As I have explained here previously, the difference of opinion is between Mr Justice Holman, who considers that such proceedings should generally take place in public with no reporting restrictions and those such as Mr Justice Mostyn who consider that such disputes are essentially private matters that should not be made public, save as necessary to ensure fairness and to educate the public about the operation of the court in very general terms. I’m sure we will hear from the Court of Appeal at some point in the not too distant future, but I do wonder whether, rightly or wrongly, greater transparency is inevitable in any event.

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has indicated that a digital online divorce system could be implemented as early as 2017. In a speech to the Family Law Bar Association annual dinner he said that some proceedings will be conducted almost entirely on-line, even down to and including the final hearing. The judge, who will not need to be in a courtroom, will interact electronically with the parties and, if they have them, their legal representatives. The ‘heaviest’ cases will continue to require everyone together in a court room, although probably only for the final hearing and any really significant interim hearings. The speech also detailed many other reforms that await the family justice system, which seems to be in a permanent state of change.

And finally, in another sign of a more enlightened future, I was pleased to read that New Zealand’s Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages has approved the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s request to be allowed to solemnise weddings. Now, I don’t normally like going to weddings, but one where I can dress up as a pirate, feast on pasta and look forward to the prospect of a beer volcano in Heaven sounds just up my street…

Have a good weekend.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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