Message from the President of the Family Division: The Financial Remedies Courts

The Financial Remedies Courts (FRC) pilot project has now been completed.

This project had its origins in a paper published in November 2016 and was formally initiated as a pilot project by his predecessor in January 2018. The first pilot zone, the West Midlands, started work in April 2018.

The pilot project has been progressively rolled out and is now ‘live’ in 18 FRC zones covering all parts of England and Wales. With the conclusion of the pilot phase, the FRCs should henceforth be regarded as an established and permanent part of the Family Court.

The FRCs will deal with all financial remedy applications, whether arising from divorce, or under the Children Act 1989, Schedule 1, or under the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, Part 3. It will also deal with all applications for enforcement of financial remedy orders. It is hoped that in due course legislation will be passed which will allow the FRCs to hear applications under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA) and the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

The FRCs have a clearly defined structure. The zones and membership of the courts are set out in a helpful organogram published by the Ministry of Justice. The key governing constitutional documents of the FRCs are the Good Practice Protocol and the document “Overall structure of the Financial Remedies Courts and the role and function of the lead judge”, both dated 7 November 2019.

The zones and their lead judges and set out in a schedule but for reference : Hampshire & Dorset - DJ John Bridger/ Kent, Surrey & Sussex - HHJ Stuart Farquhar/ Thames Valley - HHJ Joanna Vincent & Bristol, Gloucestershire & Wiltshire, and Bath & North-East Somerset - HHJ Stephanie Cope ) The structure is headed by Mostyn J with HHJ Hess as his deputy..

In MacFarlane’s judgment in Wodehouse v Wodehouse [2018] EWCA Civ 3009 he stated at [56]:

‘I hope that this decision is evidence of the value of creating a Financial Remedies Court – which is currently being piloted – so that only judges who are recognised for their knowledge of, and experience in, financial remedies cases following divorce will, in the future, sit on cases of this type.’

MacFarlane goes onto say;

‘The experience of the pilot project has vindicated my hopes. The FRCs have functioned exceptionally well during the current pandemic. Although there were initial delays and backlogs these have largely been resolved. Almost all hearings are now successfully conducted remotely by video. Electronic bundles are universally used.

Consent orders are now all dealt with online, which has substantially increased efficiency. With effect from 15 February 2021, Forms A are to be issued at the zone hub rather than the regional divorce centre. Allocation will take place immediately and the case will find its way to the right judge in the right place without delay. In about half of the zones it is possible now to issue Form A and to upload all relevant documents online; this will be extended to all the remaining zones in the coming months. I am expecting that online issue and filing will become the standard process before the year is out.

On 8 March 2021, under the auspices of the Judicial College, Peel J will give the inaugural FRC lecture to the FRC judges. I am expecting that this will be the first of many continuing education events that will be offered to FRC’s judges. I am very keen that all of the judges should have their knowledge and experience kept right up-to-date.

I have noted that an increasing number of litigants are choosing to have their FDR conducted privately. I very much welcome this development. Private FDRs appear to have very high rate of success. Their successful use frees up more judicial time for the earlier hearing of those cases that are to be dealt with in court.

The establishment of the FRC has been a success and I am therefore very pleased formally to put the project on a permanent footing within the structure of the Family Court.’