A minor revolution
We are about to experience a minor revolution when it comes to dealing with financial remedies claims, which will hopefully lead to such claims being dealt with more efficiently and more consistently across the country. The revolution will come in the form of specialist Financial Remedies Courts (‘FRCs’), which will take on the role of dealing with all financial remedies cases. The Courts and Tribunals Judiciary has just published two documents giving more details about how the FRCs will work.
The two documents are the Overall Structure of the Financial Remedies Courts and the Role and Function of the Lead Judge, and the Financial Remedies Courts Good Practice Protocol.
Before I look at the documents I should briefly explain, for the benefit of non-lawyer readers, exactly what financial remedy claims are (although any lawyer seeking a definition can find it in the first schedule to the Protocol). In layman’s terms, a financial remedy claim is pretty well any family-related financial/property claim. In particular, it covers all such claims made in connection with a divorce.
OK, to the documents. Now, there is quite a lot in them, and some of it is of a fairly technical nature, so I will just ‘cherry-pick’ a few points that I think may be of interest to readers of this blog. Anyone wanting the full picture can find the Structure document here, and the Protocol here.
I will begin with the Structure document (which, somewhat amusingly, at least to me, has the filename ‘FRC-LJ-Job-Description’, ‘LJ’ referring to the ‘Lead Judge’ in each FRC).
As I think I have explained here previously, each FRC will cover a particular geographical zone. Some eleven of these have thus far been established, and these are set out in a Schedule to the Structure document. We are told that in each zone an FRC will operate. These are shown in the Schedule, although the FRC does not appear to have yet been selected for the Mid and West Wales zone.
A Lead Judge has been appointed for each zone, and they are also named in the Schedule. Interestingly, the document says this of their role:
“It is recognised that those who undertake this work will be individuals apt to impose their own solutions on issues as and when they arise, but in so far as it is possible it is suggested that LJs should follow the spirit and detail of this document and of other measures agreed and approved by the [National Lead Judge, currently Mr Justice Mostyn] (avoiding local solutions which are contrary to national guidance)…”
In other words, LJs can do things their own way, but only up to a point. As I indicated above, one of the main aims of FRCs is to ensure consistency across the country – different outcomes in different areas being a major complaint against the present system.
The rest of the Schedule document sets out the detail of the role of the LJ. Essentially, they
“will have overall responsibility for the efficient and effective administration of the financial remedies work conducted within that zone”.
This will include selecting FRC judges, identifying FRC judges who are suitable to carry out financial remedies work of a complex nature, and “ensuring the maintenance and building of good relationships with those financial remedies practitioners (including lawyers, mediators, arbitrators etc) working in the zone”. The tenure of each LJ will last for four years, and will formally commence on the 1st of January 2020.
Moving on to the Protocol, this sets out the aims and objectives of the FRCs, the principal aim and objective being
“to improve the delivery of financial remedies for families involved in court proceedings relating to issues arising from the dissolution of relationships.”
In order to ensure that financial remedies cases are dealt with by specialist judges, we are told that:
“Within an FRC zone, no case involving financial remedies shall be dealt with by a Judge who is not an FRC Judge.”
The Protocol then sets out the procedure that will be followed when a financial remedies application is made. This mostly relates to how the case will be allocated, depending upon the complexity of the case, including the value of the assets involved. More complex cases, for example, may require more court time.
Finally, the rest of the Protocol sets out ‘best practice’ for FRC judges to follow. This covers quite a lot of technical matters, but includes encouraging the parties to settle, and ensuring that hearings do not normally begin before 10 am and do not normally continue beyond 4.30 pm.
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