Digitalisation of the family courts for financial cases
It is widely acknowledged and as set out in Hodge Jones & Allen’s Unjust Kingdom report (2015) that “the justice system requires faster modernisation”. One way of achieving of this is for the Courts to invest in technology which will help to make their processes and systems more efficient. This in turn will help the general public have their cases dealt with quickly.
A new pilot scheme to electronically file (i.e. to submit forms or documents to Court) via email (also known as e-filing) has been rolled out at the Financial Remedies Unit (FRU) at the Central Family Court (CFC). This originated from the pledge made by the Government in the 2015 Autumn Statement to invest £700 million in to Courts and Tribunals over the next five years, to bring a more efficient justice system. You may have already noticed that the Government is investing heavily in technology for other departments such as HM Revenue and Customs and the Department of Work and Pensions. Digitalising the court process is seen as a step in the right direction and progress in achieving a more efficient family court.
How will the Pilot Scheme affect you?
If you are a litigant in person or a solicitor involved in financial remedy cases then the pilot scheme is currently optional and not compulsory. This is not to say that it won’t affect you in the future as the pilot scheme will be reviewed in April 2017 with a view to making it compulsory in the long term.
What documents can you e-file?
Before stating which documents you can e-file, it is important to note some housekeeping points; all documents must be in PDF format because it is memory efficient and paragraph 3.3 of Practice Direction 5B provides that any email must not exceed 50 pages of A4 and the total size of the email (including attachments) must not exceed 10MB. The following documents for a financial remedy case can be e-filed at the following designated email address email@example.com:
- Forms E, E1 and E2 (A financial statement detailing the spouses assets);
- Forms H and H1 (A form providing an estimate or statement of legal professional fees);
- Position Statements; and
- Valuation Reports.
The email subject header should contain the case number, surname and document description – for example ZW01D23456 – SMITH – APPLICANT’S FORM E.
Once the e-filing system becomes compulsory the court staff will be able to assist litigants in person in scanning their documents.
At the moment the pilot scheme is only for FRU and Public Law (cases commenced by local authorities/social services concerning children) departments. Divorce related documents must continue to be filed as hard copies until further notice.
Court Users Group Meeting
I attended the Court Users Group meeting on 17 November 2016 at the CFC which provided an update on digitalisation. The CFC is confident that by next year family public law cases will be completely digital. The CFC also confirmed they have been keeping a digital file alongside a paper file for financial remedy cases since January 2016 with a view to replicating the same for private children law (e.g. child arrangements or permission to remove a child out of jurisdiction) in March 2017. The CFC are keen to push ahead with the digitalisation across all aspects of family law as the flagship family court in this country and this whole process will run smoothly once everyone involved (legal professionals, social workers, CAFCASS and independent experts) share a common technological platform.
I strongly hope that the pilot scheme is successful so that the Courts can achieve a more efficient, speedy and cost effective justice system which will no doubt benefit everyone.