17th Oct 2014

Uncertain future for family law courts

Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division recently gave a speech, steeped in the history of divorce law, at the 2014 Legal Wales Conference.  There is a link to the full transcript at the end of this article.

Unfortunately the analysis of the last 150 years of family law evolution is delivered at the expense of clarity on what might lie ahead for families facing divorce or separation and needing the help of the courts in the future.  There is a great deal of the former and less than half as much of the latter.

Instead, Sir James Munby makes the point, with regard to private children law cases, that court processes must be “Radically redesigned to reflect the reality that parties will no longer be represented in a new world where there is so little legal aid.”  For all of that, though, there remains no explanation as to what that redesign will look like.  There is another challenge here and it is this; the drive for reform of the family courts system is constantly addressed under the shadow of legal aid cuts.  What of the private paying litigants who do still choose to instruct solicitors in order to have their legal and family needs properly represented and resolved?  Are they to be abandoned in the brave new world?

Sir James Munby stresses that the courts will continue to enthusiastically embrace “judicial continuity, judicial case management, robust timetabling, and rigorous control of the unnecessary use of experts and proliferation of paper.”  He later explains that the courts face a modern responsibility of “Deciding what issues will be argues and what evidence will be permitted… with an agenda set by the judge, not by the parties.” 

What this will mean for those who are going through the court process to resolve children and family law cases remains to be seen.  Will justice be seen to be done or will parties feel that they have not been heard or even allowed to voice their concerns?  There will need to be a careful balancing act.

The question is asked about unrepresented parties and the answer is entirely discouraging.  Sir James Munby concedes that “Much, too much, remains to be done” before stating that he hopes to be “In a position to identify the way forward well before this time next year.” 

The talk provides very little in the way clarity on future steps.  There are the usual vague calls to “Encourage and make an effective reality of methods of non-court dispute resolution, mediation in particular,” and a “Need to reconsider practice and procedure so as to facilitate the use of out-of-court methods for resolving financial disputes, whether by mediation, arbitration or other appropriate techniques” and yet there is no detail on how that will be done.  Instead we have the recognition that this is a shift that is currently failing.  “Much time has been lost” remarks Sir James Munby.  “There is much to do.”

What of the individual or couple who are thinking about or going through divorce and separation now?

That is where we can help.

Family Law in Partnership is an award winning firm of divorce lawyers based in London, working out of our offices in Covent Garden.  We can help you to navigate the various processes to enable you to resolve the matters that are important to you and your family in a time and cost effective manner.

We offer the full range of mediation, negotiation, collaborative law, arbitration and conventional litigation based remedies as well.  In addition we have family consultants who can help you to make sense of the changes that are taking place within your own family.

If you have questions about divorce or separation, or know somebody who does, then get in touch and let us help you to decide which path you will take.  You can email us on hello@flip.co.uk or telephone us and ask to speak to one of our divorce lawyers or family mediators on 020 7420 5000.

Transcript of Sir James Munby’s talk on 21st Century Family Law, 10th October 2014