Changes to the Family Court System
From April 2014 the family court system will change. The present system is often very confusing for most people with cases being heard by as many as 3 different courts and a number of different levels of judges and even lay magistrates. To overcome this and to ensure that the court system is more accessible the law is changing. The effect of the change is to replace the County Court (for family matters), the High Court and the Family Proceedings Court (or Magistrate’s Court) with a single family court.
This will mean that when an application is sent to the court for issuing the application will be assessed to decide at what level of Judiciary the case should be considered. Very complex cases, or cases which involve an international element or which require a special level of expertise will be assigned to a High Court Judge. The majority of straight forward cases will be assigned to District Judges or Circuit Judges, cases which do not involve any complex issues of fact or law will be considered by a bench of Lay Magistrates, assisted by a legally qualified advisor.
Of course a case may start off simple or appear straight forward but twists and turns and a changes of circumstances may mean that it becomes much more complex. When this happens the court can direct that the case should be heard by a more senior judge. This has very many advantages over the former system of different courts, it allows for the seamless progress to a case ensuing that the matter is dealt with as efficiently and timely as possible. This contrasts against the former system which required the court to make an order formally transferring the matter to a different tier of the court system. It should also go some way to avoiding the costly delays and frustrations which are caused when a case is issued out of the wrong court.
No doubt there will be teething problems and practice will develop as experience expands, but the creation of the Single Family Court, must stand as one of the most significant developments in administration of family justice this century.
You can find further information and obtain advice on any matters relating to family law here.