Earlier this week, I wrote on Sir James Munby’s speech to the Family Law Bar Association in which he said that the Red Book (the Family Procedure Rules) were fit only for the bonfire.
This was in part inspired by the increasing number of litigants-in-person in family law proceedings. Reports published earlier this year showed that there had been a 22 percent increase in cases involving contact with children in which neither party was represented. Statistics show that there has been a 30 percent increase across all family court cases in which neither party had legal representation. 80 percent of all family court cases starting in January to March 2013-14 had at least one party who did not have legal representation.
As well as the emotional challenges facing litigants-in-person in family proceedings, the family procedure rules themselves do not lend themselves particularly well to those who are not lawyers. Sir James Munby commented that the family procedure rules need to be overhauled and simplified in order to assist the increasing number of litigants-in-person. This blog takes one rule in the family procedure rules as an example of the complex language and a challenge facing litigants-in-person.
Rule 2.9: the computation of time
Under the FPR, counting days stipulated in orders is not as straight forward as working out 24-hour periods and going from there.
The relevant rule for the computation of time is FPR 2.9: Computation of time which reads:
(2) A period of time expressed as a number of days must be computed as clear days.
(3) In this rule ‘clear days’ means that in computing the numbers of days-
(a) the day on which the period begins; and
(b) if the end of the period is defined by reference to an event, the day on which that event occurs,
-are not included.
(4) Where the specified period is seven days or less and includes a day which is not a business Reday, that day does not count.
(5) When the period specified –
(a) by these rules or a practice direction; or
(b) by any direction or order of the court,
-for doing any act at the court office ends on a day on which the office is closed, that act will be in time if done on the next day on which the court office is open.
Key points to note:
- Days should be ‘clear’ which means that you should not count the day of the event as one of the days.
- If the deadline is under seven days, the way to calculate the number of days is by ignoring weekends and bank holidays. This can mean that a deadline can creep up earlier than expected, particularly for filing documents at court as the weekend would not count.
- If the deadline is over seven days, the way to calculate the days is to take them literally: include weekends, include bank holidays, but make sure you are counting clear days.