We seem to be going through a period of never-ending change to the family justice system – whether this equates to never-ending improvement, I’ll leave to others to judge. The latest change is the introduction of a “fast-track” procedure for the resolution of certain financial remedy applications.
So what is this procedure, and what types of cases does it apply to? The answers to these questions can be found in The Family Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2018, which were made on 27th March, and which come into force on 4th June. The new procedure will apply to all relevant financial remedy applications made on or after that date. The existing procedure, for all other cases, will be known as the “standard” procedure.
I’ll begin with the latter question: what type of cases does the new procedure apply to?
The detail of the types of cases that the fast-track procedure will apply to is contained in rule 5, which inserts a new rule 9.9B into the Family Procedure Rules 2010. Essentially, the type of cases covered relate primarily to maintenance. They include:
- Applications where the only remedy sought is a periodical payments (maintenance) order, including child maintenance applications;
- Applications relating to the recognition and enforcement of foreign maintenance orders; and
- Applications to vary maintenance orders, save for cases in which the applicant seeks to substitute the order with a ‘capital’ order, such as a lump sum
Note that at any stage in the proceedings the court may order that an application proceeding under the fast-track procedure must proceed under the standard procedure. The new rules also specifically state that either party may request the standard procedure be used even if it is a fast-track procedure case, although they don’t give any indication as to the circumstances in which it may be appropriate for the court to direct that the standard procedure should apply – presumably, simply the complexity of the case.
So what exactly is the new procedure? Essentially, it is just a re-hash of the old procedure under Chapter 5 of Part 9 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, used previously for various (mostly) maintenance-related applications. As to specific differences from that procedure, there are some minor points, such as that the first hearing will now be fixed between six and ten weeks after the filing of the application, rather than between four and eight weeks. In addition, the parties now have 21 days from the date of the application to exchange financial statements (rather than 14 days). However, the meat of the changes is contained in a new rule 9.20, which sets out what the court should do at the first hearing.
Rule 9.20(1) states that if it is able to determine the application at that hearing, the court must do so, unless it considers that there are good reasons not to do so. If it does not determine the application, the court may use the hearing, or part of it, as a Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) appointment. Otherwise, rule 9.20 gives the court the usual powers to make appropriate directions for the disposal of the case, including referring the application to a FDR appointment. If the court decides that a referral to a FDR appointment is not appropriate it must fix another hearing, whether for further directions, for the making of an interim order, or for a final hearing.
And that is about it. Not, I think, particularly Earth-shattering stuff, and not something that will affect many users of the family justice system. When I first heard of the idea of a fast-track procedure, I envisioned something that would apply to a large proportion of financial remedy cases – i.e. cases of a more straightforward nature, one that really would result in those cases being dealt with more quickly. Perhaps that will have to wait for the next set of changes…
You can find The Family Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2018 here.