Finally. The summer beach read you’ve all been waiting for*.
FCWAL 3 … The litigant in person strikes back.
Thanks to all of you who have given feedback and suggestions for things to add into this edition – I hope I’ve incorporated most of them and that the 3rd edition is not only updated but also better than the earlier versions.
To get a 20% discount on your copy of the new edition pre-order using this code before the end of August : fcwal3. Order via www.nofamilylawyer.co.uk.
*seriously, DON’T take this to the beach with you. If you are considering taking this to the beach with you, you need to sit yourself down, give yourself a dummy smack and drink a lovely mojito instead.
NB I’ve updated this post since publication – see foot.
There has been a lot of coverage of this issue in the media in the last couple of weeks, most recently here :
Philip Marshall QC, chair of the Family Law Bar Association has made some forceful remarks in his latest email to FLBA members, which I think merit emphasis. He is talking about the President of the Family Division’s 15th “View” in which he says ‘we face a clear and imminent crisis…for which we are ill-prepared and where there is no clear strategy to manage the crisis’.
I commented on the view here. Philip Marshall QC says this of the President’s. It needed saying.
…Such observations are unprecedented in my experience.
We must all take notice (a) because if the Family Court is unable to manage the current surge in care cases, we risk having some other system (e.g. tribunals) imposed upon us, and (b) because the very real challenges posed by this unprecedented increase in the number of new public law cases impacts upon the courts’ ability to process private law cases in a timely and appropriately specialised manner. And if the private law cases abandon the family courts in favour of privately funded alternatives, there is a real danger that we will indeed begin to see a two tier justice system dependent solely on the ability (or inability) to pay. That is something we cannot allow to happen.
Perhaps understandably, the President is constrained to acknowledge that at least in the short-term there is unlikely to be any increase in judicial resources. Everyone who uses the family courts on a daily basis – whether as judge, advocate or lay client – knows that the system is already massively stretched (I hesitate to say to near breaking point). I hope that doesn’t sound too defeatist? It is not intended to be. Rather it is an acknowledgement of the reality of the enormous challenge that we all face day in, day out simply to get cases heard. Delay is now endemic at all levels (as the recent Court of Appeal consultation made plain). This, perhaps, is particularly acute in family cases, in which there is an over-abundance of litigants in person, particularly at appeal court level.
And so our overlords and paymasters at the Ministry of Justice and at the Treasury need to take notice. I repeat: the family courts face a clear and imminent crisis which has to be addressed. So let me be bold, and I hope not too obviously naïve:
As Chairman of the Family Law Bar Association, I call on government to take notice, act now and inject urgently needed additional funds into the family justice system.
I don’t, of course, ignore the £700 million – or is it now £1 billion? – to be invested across the wider court estate to modernise and digitise procedures (including setting up the much heralded On-line Court). This is much welcomed, long overdue, and makes up for years of under-investment. And it probably (i.e. definitely) won’t be repeated any time soon. But what is actually needed is extra funding year-on-year, to ensure we have more specialised family judges, both nationally and locally, so cases can be processed properly, in something approaching a timely fashion.
And perhaps some public acknowledgement or even a response – i.e. any response – to the President’s statement would be a good start? I’m not aware that any has yet been forthcoming. [my emphasis]