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Just as the huge law reforms of the family justice system in April 2014 have started to bed in, more reports have been issued proposing further changes. A report from the Financial Remedies Working Group (FRWG) and an interim report from the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group (which can be viewed here,
watch this space for analysis). The FRWG report is huge, with 12 annexes (ten of which can be accessed here, the other two comprise zipped files of standard orders).
What does it all mean?
Well, change and lots of it. Much of it expected (standard orders), other recommendations are unexpected (a reversal of reforms made only in April as to accelerated/shortened procedure). There’s no indication of timescales and some of the suggestions
may not happen at all. My guess would be changes to arbitration and obligatory standard orders by the end of the year. Other proposed changes will take longer. And as if judges weren’t already swamped with overloaded lists and LiPs, the FRWG
wants them to do lots of training. Perhaps we need more judges until the push to non-court dispute resolution is more embedded? But that’s just wishful thinking…
The report itself is over 8,000 words long. If you don’t have time to read all of that, here are the highlights:
What is the FRWG?
The FRWG is chaired by Mostyn J and Cobb J. It was set up by the President of the Family Division in 2014 following implementation of the major family law reforms in April 2014.
In his 12th View, the President said that the FRWG task is two-fold:
The FRWG report is divided into four parts: procedure; litigants in person; standard orders in financial remedy proceedings; and family arbitration.
The FRWG considers the overall structure for financial remedy applications, involving Forms E and a three stage hearing process (first appointment, financial dispute resolution appointment (FDR), and final hearing), to be well established and successful.
The FRWG says it should continue but that the procedure could be improved in a number of ways that would require some amendments to FPR 2010. Key points are:
The FRWG’s view is that the development of the FDR hearing has been a very successful part of the 1996 reforms and that (save where the court has deliberately ordered otherwise in truly exceptional circumstances) the FDR hearing should feature in
all cases as a compulsory requirement. Key points are:
The report is wide-ranging and also comments on the following:
Litigants in person
The FRWG recognises that a substantial, and possibly increasing, portion of financial remedy litigation is conducted by litigants in person (LiPs) and that procedure and documentation must be designed to ensure that this fact is taken into account. Key
The FRWG has been invited by the President to ‘create a comprehensive body of standard form orders’ for use in financial remedy cases. This task represents the continuation of the work already undertaken in this area by a team lead by Mostyn
J. Key points are:
The FRWG has sought to complete the task of creating a comprehensive body of standard form money orders, taking into account consultation responses and the practical experience of the existing drafts and recommends the formal adoption of various standard
orders including those relating to financial remedies directions, final orders, enforcement, committal and Children Act 1989, Sch 1.
The FRWG believes that recent development of specialist family arbitration targeted to financial remedy litigation demands procedural changes designed to ensure the adoption of arbitral awards in the Family Court in a way which is as swift and uncomplicated
as possible. Key recommendations are that:
Geraldine Morris is a solicitor and Head of LexisPSL Family.
See here for more practical guidance on family law reform and to arrange a free trial of LexisPSL Family.
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Geraldine is Head of LexisPSL Family. She was admitted as a solicitor in 1992 and was in practice for 15 years, most recently as a partner and head of the family team at Hart Brown, a large Surrey firm.
Geraldine writes for Butterworths Family Law Service and is a past editor of the Resolution Review. She has been published in the New Law Journal, the Law Society Gazette and the District Judges’ Bulletin as well as in the national press including the Times and the Telegraph.
When in practice she was a member of the Law Society Family and Children Panels, and an accredited Resolution Specialist with a focus on advanced financial provision and pensions. A past Resolution regional secretary and press officer, Geraldine also contributed chapters to the Resolution publications, International Aspects of Family Law (3rd Edition 2009) and The Modern Family (2012).
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