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The wrath of the Court

As the latest celebrity divorce to hit the press continues, Ant McPartlin has found himself in hot water with the judge for skipping a hearing about the financial settlement for his divorce, apparently on advice from his media barrister.

We asked Mark Chapman from our Reading office to join us on the blog to look at why it really is best to turn up for court, regardless of what your media barrister says…

The non-attendance of Ant McPartlin certainly irked the presiding Judge on his divorce who is reported to have said

“there isn’t one law for the famous and one for the rest of the community”

before going on to ask why he wasn’t in attendance and then confirming that the rules say he was supposed to be there.

Why should you be present in court?

The rules he is referencing are the Family Procedure Rules 2010. They confirm that it is a fundamental aspect of family procedure that, whatever aspect is before the court, the parties should be present as well as their legal advisers to enable the court to deal with the case justly and with regard to any welfare issues involved.

There is an argument, therefore (perhaps this was the view the media barrister took) that non-attendance was not the end of the world and indeed perhaps the matter in question was able to proceed in the absence of the person in question. That though is conjecture and misses the point about the need to attend Court.

What do you do if you cannot attend Court?

The date for a Court hearing is often set down months in advance. Therefore, it is understandable that an unforeseen commitment may crop up which makes attendance at Court problematic.

If you cannot attend then speak to your lawyer at the earliest opportunity. If the reason is a personal appointment then you will need to provide the evidence. If sufficient notice is given, then an agreement will be sought from the other party that (subject to the Court sanctioning the request) the hearing be adjourned to a date when everyone can attend. Another option can be that the hearing can go ahead in the absence of one of the parties, provided that the party is contactable by phone to ensure the smooth running of the case. In respect of the latter, whilst one party may not be in attendance, their lawyers will be .

International clients

We act for a number of international clients for whom travel to and from the Courts may be problematic or cost prohibitive. If the hearing is of a procedural nature, then even if there is a significant time difference, a party can still be available on the end of the phone if a hearing is to take place without them being physically present in the Courtroom. In other circumstances, even with a hearing of a substantive nature, a party can be involved in the proceedings at arm’s length on the day via video link, again provided the Court has sanctioned such involvement in such a manner.

On a practical level, even with a hearing of a procedural nature, a party may be the only one that has the answer to a specific question or issue, irrespective of how prepared everyone is in the lead up to the hearing. Being present in Court will assist all, even when it appears that matters of a relatively mundane nature are being discussed.

Things to consider

Attending a court hearing is an emotionally draining experience for anyone but it is expected that all involved in a case will be present. Don’t presume (or perhaps more pertinently the old adage “assume”) that for whatever reason, even if perfectly valid that you don’t have to attend Court. Speak to your lawyer first. If something happens on the way to Court on the day (transport delays/family illness etc) let them know immediately. Judges are human beings and will understand if for reasons out of anyone’s control that you don’t make it to Court. A Judge will often be content to delay the start of a hearing if it means someone can be given more time to get to Court.

There are rules that assist vulnerable parties and children in relation to attending Court hearings that are outside of the scope of this article

You can contact Mark at the details below.

Mark was a Partner in the Stowe Family Law Reading office. Mark has a thorough knowledge of all aspects of family law, but his particular specialty is dealing with the financial implications on the breakdown of a marriage.

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As the UK's largest family law firm we understand that every case is personal.

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