The Central Family Court (CFC) in London and its Financial Remedy Unit (FRU) are finalising a pilot scheme for electronically filing documents for all finance proceedings.
Chancellor George Osborne announced in his Autumn 2015 statement that radical court reforms were being planned. He stated that ’underused courts will be closed’, with the money saved as a result to be used ’to fund a £700 million investment in new technology that will bring further and permanent long-term savings, and speed up the process of justice’. This financial investment over the next five years is intended to streamline the justice system. Other areas of law have already used technological innovation to make the courts more efficient, but Family Law appears to be lagging slightly behind.
Financial Remedies Unit Manager of the CFC, Ryan Gallagher, has prepared a practice note – The Introduction of Electronic Filing in the Financial Remedies Unit – to provide guidance, which Family Law Week have reproduced here. This document is supported by Practice Direction 5B (PD5B) of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, which explains how to email documents to the Financial Remedy Unit.
PD5B states that documents may be filed at the court by email if it is related to family proceedings (other than adoption). The FRU will be creating an ‘e-file’ for each case, which all court staff and judges will be able to quickly access during hearings, and which should reduce the amount of paper in the courts. Documents should be sent as PDFs to be entered into the file, entering the ‘subject’ as – – to enable it to be easily located by court staff.
The system currently allows for electronic submission of:
Divorce Petitions and Forms A, as well as D11s within existing proceedings, consent orders, and applications for decree nisi and decree absolute, still need to be submitted at the court in hard-copy format. It is hoped that court bundles might be submissible electronically during the pilot scheme, to reduce paper, and the FRU are exploring the possibility of using a ‘cloud’ to allow practitioners to update and edit bundles after they have been submitted. Local Authorities are currently piloting a similar cloud system for documents and files.
However, until a cloud system is set up at the CFC, there may be some difficulties, as the system restricts the size of documents submitted to 50 pages. By contrast, Practice Direction 27A states that a court bundle can be up to 350 pages. Because of this inconsistency, court bundles are likely to continue needing to be submitted in hard copy for the foreseeable future.
Another limit on the size of documents is that attachments to emails cannot exceed 10MB. Documents which are bigger would have to be submitted through an Egress switch account, which is currently used by CAFCASS in children proceedings. So practitioners would need to set up accounts in order to submit larger documents for hearings.
Where the document being submitted by e-mail requires an original signature or a statement of truth to be signed, s.6.2 PD5B states that practitioners ‘should retain the document containing the original signature and file with the court a version of the document’, electronically submitting either the document with the person’s name typed under the statement, or send a fax of the signature. The original version may be required by the court at a later date, so should still be retained.
In terms of the ’date received’ for documents submitted by email, s.5.3(b) PD5B states that, ’where an e-mail, including any attachment, is received by the court… the email is recorded by HMCTS e-mail software as received at or after 4:31pm and before or at 11:59pm, the date of receipt is the next day the court office is open’.
The pilot scheme is to be launched this summer for the electronic filing of finance documents. If it proves successful, compulsory electronic filing across all cases may not be so far away.