The President’s annual ‘state of the nation’ address

Family Law|May 14th 2019

I wrote here yesterday about the latest edition of the View from the President’s Chambers, the periodic update by the President of the Family Division upon the latest developments in the field of family law, and his views thereon. My post concentrated on the announcement by the President of a transparency review. What else did the President talk about?

Well, the first thing to say is that this View is rather more special than others. As the President explains at the outset, it comprises his annual ‘state of the nation’ address, delivering his perspective on the current state of affairs so far as the Family Justice system is concerned.

And what, apart from that transparency review, is happening within the nation? Here is a summary of some of the main points:

Firstly, the President is continuing his stately progression around the 44 Designated Family Judge Family Court Centres in England and Wales (together with some additional courts), “in order to understand just how the current unprecedented burden of work was being experienced at each place and, hopefully, to learn something of the causes of the rise in caseload and to identify strategies that may improve our ability to cope with this volume of work.” The President reports that he has thus far visited 24 courts, and aims “to complete this initial ‘drains-up’ familiarisation with the system by October, or early November.” He says that the visits have shown that different courts seem to approach common tasks in very different ways, and that such diversity provides useful information as we try to identify what does, or does not, ‘work’ in terms of efficient and effective case progression. The visits have “provided a rich harvest of information and ideas”, which have been fed into two central working groups that he has established, to focus on Public Law and Private Law. The two groups are shortly to publish interim reports looking at process and practice in both areas.

Moving on, the President reported briefly upon the piloting of specialist financial remedy courts, although I don’t think he told us anything we did not already know.

He also reported briefly upon the failure of the eleven regional divorce centres to provide an adequate service for the progress of divorce petitions and the making of Financial Remedy consent orders. He says that the centres are being phased out during the current 12-month period, and replaced by an online system based in the new national Civil and Family Service Centre at Stoke on Trent, although my understanding is that the Ministry of Justice has not yet made a final decision upon the fate of the centres. He says that he is “confident that the senior staff at HM Courts and Tribunals Service [‘HMCTS’] are entirely clear that the unacceptable service levels currently experienced from the paper-based centres is not to be repeated as Stoke gradually takes on more and more of this work.” He says that he has already visited the new centre at Stoke and, while he was impressed by what he saw there, he intends “to keep a continuous and keen eye on the process as it moves forward.”

Moving on again, the President says that: “The HMCTS Reform Programme continues to develop and is, increasingly, producing online processes which will in time include every aspect of the work of the Family Court.” He also says that, irrespective of the progress of ‘Reform’, he considers that the Family Court should be making full use of the current technology to conduct short, without notice, hearings by telephone, typically at the first hearing of a Family Law Act injunction application.

Lastly, the President concludes with one further observation from the court visits he has made, and I shall set it out in full:

“It is simply to acknowledge my appreciation for the HMCTS Staff who keep our system running to the best of their ability in a period that has been made difficult for them, not only by the rise in the number of cases, and not only by the need for the staff to take on board new systems of working that are gradually being rolled out as part of the Reform Programme, but also to undertake their work having been informed that, in due course, a consequence of ‘Reform’ will be a reduction in staff levels at each court centre. I have been extremely impressed by the commitment to the work and the good humour that I have experienced on meeting very many staff members all over the country and, in closing this ‘View’, I simply wish to record my thanks to each and every one of them.”

I’m sure we would all agree with those sentiments.

You can read the full View here.

 

 

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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