In January 2018, the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, issued his 18th View from the President’s Chambers, dealing with the launch of the Financial Remedy Court (FRC) pilots and the proposed structure and geography of the FRC. The pilots are to commence in London, the West Midlands (Black Country) and South-East Wales.
Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has indicated that at this stage the West Midlands pilot will be rolled out, and that thereafter there will be a review of that pilot prior to the roll out of further pilots. Guidance has been issued in relation to the West Midlands pilot, which states that:
- entry points will remain as they are, with all applications continuing to be submitted at regional divorce centres
- financial remedy applications made by consent at issue will continue to be dealt with at the divorce centre, or in line with any alternative provisions already in place—if a financial remedy application is contested or a hearing is required, the application will be transferred to the FRC (rather than the local court) while the divorce proceedings continue at the regional divorce centre
- hearings will largely be focused within dedicated financial remedy hearing centres (for the West Midlands, in Birmingham, Coventry, Telford and Wolverhampton) by specialist financial remedy judges, however, judicial discretion will apply and therefore all local courts (in the West Midlands, Dudley and Walsall) will retain the ability to host a financial remedy hearing if the case requires
- as the FRC pilots constitute an administrative change, that there will be no changes to the Family Procedure Rules 2010 or any application forms or guidance documents
In addition, the guidance provides that the focus of the pilots will be to test the following features:
- the use of specialist judiciary within the FRC
- the nomination of a financial remedy judge for each centre to give an oversight of financial remedy work and drive forward best practice and improvements
- the creation of a team of staff dedicated to financial remedy work
- the introduction of a gatekeeping process for contested cases—a gatekeeping and allocation certificate for completion by the applicant has been issued for the pilots
- the use of centralised listing from within the FRC
- the centralisation of administration of financial remedy work, and
- the use of electronic working across FRCs
The use of electronic files is an important part of the pilot, and where possible papers are to be submitted via email (however paper bundles will still be required for hearings). As part of the pilot, scanned copies of contested applications will be accepted via email where users are using Payment By Account (PBA), or have provided a telephone number for the divorce centre to call to take payment. If an application is submitted via email, the subject line should read ‘New Form A’. In the West Midlands pilot, emails should be directed to FRCBirmingham@justice.gov.uk.
A gatekeeping and allocation certificate must be completed in relation to contested cases, to assist the court in allocating the case to the appropriate court. The applicant should consult with the respondent about the responses provided in the certificate. Applicants must certify whether the application should be allocated to the complexity list of the FRC, for the reasons detailed on the form. If the matter is not suitable for the complexity list, the form should be completed indicating that the matter is appropriate for the standard list.
Feedback regarding the pilots can be provided via email, using the subject line ‘FR Application Pilot – Feedback’.
Geraldine Morris is a solicitor and head of LexisPSL Family.