In 2014 the Central Family Court ran a pilot scheme to test a new procedure to accelerate the first appointment in (among other things) ancillary relief proceedings.
The accelerated procedure would be available where all of the following apply:
- There is a draft consent order in the standard form set out in the annex agreed by both parties and signed by them or on their behalf.
- The required documents and the signed draft consent order have been filed with the court by e-mail at least 14 days prior to the date fixed for the First Appointment hearing.
- An e-mail has been sent in accordance with the template provided.
- A district judge has approved the draft consent order in advance of the First Appointment hearing.
Following the pilot scheme the Financial Remedies Working Group chaired by Nicholas Mostyn J and Stephen Cobb J recommended that the procedure should be adopted nationwide. This recommendation was made in December 2014, and as far as I can see, nothing further has been done.
If the accelerated first appointment procedure was introduced it would require a re-timetabling of Form Es and first appointment documents, or a very pro-active approach from all parties involved. At the moment, first appointment documents are required to be filed and served just two weeks before the first appointment which if adhered to would not allow enough time to use this accelerated procedure.
I for one would be very keen to use it when appropriate. It would of course have the benefit of reducing costs for parties and avoid them having to attend family Court, but there may also be other benefits. Just recently I sat in on a first appointment hearing when the Judge sought to remove a number of questions from a party’s questionnaire when there were no points of dispute which has in my opinion left a hole in the evidence should this matter ever be decided at a final hearing.
Accelerated First Appointment Procedure
The pilot Accelerated First Appointment procedure currently in use at the Central Family Court received a number of favourable responses in the consultation exercise and has been reviewed by the group and found to be a useful scheme, albeit for a limited number of cases (ie where further disclosure and/or valuation evidence are plainly necessary and uncontroversial and directions can be agreed between the parties and approved by the court in advance of the First Appointment). The group accordingly recommends that this procedure is adopted nationwide and is now incorporated in an FPR Practice Direction. The group recognised that this will impose time obligations on District Judges and that this should be recognised in local listing arrangements.