Just in case you missed it : Family Law Week Round up

Electronic Court Bundles

New guidance has been given regarding electronic court bundles, designed to ensure a consistent approach among practitioners, to assist the Court.

Key guidance includes:

  • Bundles must be in PDF format

    • Numbering should not be done by hand

    • No pages should be upside down

    • The PDF should be bookmarked and indexed, with the index being hyperlinked

    • All typed text should be searchable via optical character recognition

    • Resolution should not be greater than 300 dpi

    • If further pages are to be inserted after the bundle has been sent to the judge, the pages should be added and paginated for the end of the bundle.

For the full guidance, click here .

Remote Hearing Evaluation

On 10 December 2021, HMCTS published Evaluation of remote hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic, which assessed the characteristics, experiences and perceptions of court and tribunal users during the pandemic. Underpinning the evaluations were over 8,000 survey responses and 180 interviews.

The Evaluation concluded that, overall, across all jurisdictions and key demographic groups, public users who attended hearings remotely had an equal or better experience with their hearing than those who attended in-person. Judges and other professionals commented that:

  • More complex cases and those with potentially life altering outcomes, including custodial sentences and child custody decisions, were less suited to remote hearings.

    · Remote hearings worked less well for public users who require an interpreter, and hearings involving users in custody.

    · Across remote and in-person court users, a similar proportion felt they received a fair hearing, had confidence in how the court or tribunal handled their case and agreed their case was given an appropriate amount of care and attention.

Other key points to emerge from the Evaluation were:

  • Factors influencing the decision to hold a remote hearing included the perceived vulnerability of parties, the likely hearing length and complexity, the severity of the case, the potential seriousness of the outcome, the stated preference of public users and health considerations (pages 38-39).

    · The lack of informal out of court conversations with the other party's representative limited lawyers' scope to resolve issues before the hearing (page 16).

    · Cloud Video Platform was the most commonly used video platform (pages 30-31). Inconsistent quality of technology and loss of connection were common themes. Challenges with e-bundles were raised (see pages 31-32). Judges and lawyers were more satisfied with training and guidance on the use of video platforms than HMCTS staff (pages 33-37).

    · Around half of all respondents said that the stress of remote hearings had had an impact on their health (pages 62-64).

    · 78% of lawyers preferred to work from home during the pandemic and 59% said that they would still prefer to do so post-pandemic (pages 28-29).

    · Areas for development and improvement were identified (81-83).

Courts to carry on through pandemic

On 9 December 2021, the Judiciary published a message from Lord Burnett of Maldon, the Lord Chief Justice, and Sir Keith Lindblom, the Senior President of Tribunals, following the Prime Minister's announcement on 8 December 2021 that England will move to Plan B of the COVID-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan 2021 (Plan B) in response to the Omicron variant.

The message confirmed that "the work of courts and tribunals will continue as it has done over the course of the pandemic". The measures being introduced under Plan B mean that hearings should continue to take place in person alongside effective use of video hearings and remote attendance, where that is in the interests of justice.

The LCJ and the Senior President of Tribunals said that "[t]he coming weeks will bring their difficulties across all jurisdictions both professionally and personally but we have been there before and are equipped to cope". They are grateful for the efforts of judges, tribunal members, magistrates, the legal profession, HMCTS and Judicial Office staff, and all involved in the justice system over the last two years in support of the administration of justice and sure that this will continue.

Financial Remedy Court Organogram: November 2021

An updated diagram showing the Financial Remedy Court structure can be found by clicking here .

Outdoor Weddings and Civil Partnerships

From July 2021, couples have been able to have their civil marriage and civil partnership proceedings outside, in the grounds of buildings such as stately homes and hotels which are approved or become approved for civil ceremonies. This was, as noted by the government, allowed during the Covid-19 pandemic to give couples more choice and to support the wedding and civil partnership sector. The statutory instrument has effect only until 5 April 2022.

A consultation is now underway seeking views to continue this indefinitely and to permit outdoor religious marriage in the grounds of places of worship.