Sir James Munby stood before the Family Law Bar Association on 26th February and declared that the Red Book – the family procedure rules – are only fit for the bonfire against the changing landscape of family law.
President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, acknowledged the fact that the family courts will be moving away from the paper heavy files and applications and moving earnestly towards a digitalised system within the next four years. Instead of issuing applications on paper, it is intended that applicants will complete online questionnaires. As early as 2017, applications for divorce will be entirely online. Eventually, the family law courts will have e-bundles, paper will be replaced with an iPad or equivalent, and judges will be able to interact electronically with the parties and their legal representatives without needing a court room.
Sir Munby accepted the move towards a more streamlined and digitalised system as necessary, with more parties to family proceedings appear as litigants in person. In this context, he recognised that the family procedure rules, while a ‘masterpiece of traditional drafting’, were fit only for the bonfire. As it stands, the FPR are ‘not fit for purpose’ -they are in dire need of simplification and will eventually be replaced by digital counterparts so that they could be more easily understood by litigants in person.
In terms of children proceedings, Sir Munby made it clear that he hopes that the settlement conferences currently being trialed with some success in Liverpool will become a daily part of children proceedings. The settlement conferences are essentially the equivalent of an FDR for children proceedings, designed to facilitate negotiation and settlement. A pilot for judicial and CAFCASS involvement in pre-proceedings phase of some types of care cases will be introduced in the hope that it makes the child’s journey through the care process as seamless as possible and ensure that s20 of the Children Act is properly considered in all cases.
Further, Sir Munby highlighted that he hopes to be able, in the next few months, to issue for consultation draft Guidance on how better to anonymise judgments and reduce the risk of ‘jig-saw’ identification.
These suggestions indicate that the landscape of family law is changing and that solicitors and barristers alike need to adapt to these changes. There is now a sense that the family courts need to approach cases with a view to future-proof problem solving.