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Priorities for the President of the Family Division
Sir Andrew McFarlane set out several of his priorities for the remainder of his term at the FLBA National Conference in Manchester.
The Future of Remote Hearings:
Sir Andrew McFarlane stated that, moving forward, it is not in his intentions to issue formal Practice Directions or Presidential Guidance setting out which cases should or should not be heard remotely. He expressed that the reason for this is because he ‘continues to believe that the decision as to the format for each Hearing should be taken by the Judge in charge of the case.’ He further stated that we should continue to embrace technology as there are evident detriments to attended Hearings ‘in terms of travel time…additional expense, carbon foot-print and other factors.’
The President continues to express his concerns for those who work in the Family Court, as he states that the system is running ‘at a level above its normal capacity’ with COVID-19 causing a back-log. He insists upon each individual needing down time and to take their well being seriously.
He further states that it is to be ensured that cases must only come to court when they need to and when they are ‘ready to do so in terms of assessments and all other necessary evidence.’
Family Public Law digital programme:
He appreciates the ‘unwelcome and additional burden to be expected to learn about and engage with the new digital process, however he encourages the use of these programmes by emphasising that they do help make life easier and more efficient.
The President lists five reformed digital services which have now been fully delivered:
- Financial Remedy Consent
- Financial Remedy Contested
- Family Public Law
He also states that 60% of all Private Law applications are now made online.
Additionally, a further ½ million applications have been made using these services and the level of performance has been transferred:
- Divorce now takes 20 weeks from start to finish
- Financial remedy consents are dealt with in 3 weeks
- C100 applications are going to gatekeeping teams within 2 days of receipt
- The FPL provides fully digital files for the judiciary
Financial Remedies Courts:
He further praised the FRC’s for functioning well during the pandemic, stating that it is crucial aspect that this work is only undertaken by specialist judges.
The digitalisation of this process has been a success, with the waiting time for approval of consent orders being reduced dramatically. Additionally, he expressed that once a few technical errors are overcome, the online process for contested applications will too be just as effective.
There have also been recent reforms which require transparency in relation to costs incurred and to be incurred. These have resulted in a more ‘disciplined, efficient and fair approach to financial remedy litigation.’
The President hopes that these reforms will resolve the very high costs in some cases.
Sir Andrew McFarlane concluded by congratulating the Family Court on its achievements from the very first day of Lockdown. ‘Every single individual, be they lawyers, court staff, social workers or Judges and magistrates, did their utmost to keep the system going and available for those who turn to us for protection or the resolution of intractable disputes. What has been achieved makes me proud to be part of the Family Justice system and one of your number. There is still much to do and it is important not to lose sight of the need to look after yourselves as we go forward. The move towards more face-to-face Hearings that this address heralds should, and I hope will, have positive benefits for all.’