“Slapdash, lackadaisical and on occasions almost contumelious” – the President gets tough

02 Aug

A judgment handed down on 25th July 2014 by the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, reinforced the message he aims to make resonate through the Family Court. Not only do we need to stick to the 26 weeks (although note recent case on exceptional cases: M-F (Children)[2104] EWCA Civ 991 for judgment  click here), but family practitioners cannot simply agree to vary the court timetable amongst themselves, they must return to the Court with any proposed change to the timetable.

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Family

A judgment handed down on 25th July 2014 by the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, reinforced the message he aims to make resonate through the Family Court. Not only do we need to stick to the 26 weeks (although note recent case on exceptional cases: M-F (Children)[2104] EWCA Civ 991 for judgment  click here), but family practitioners cannot simply agree to vary the court timetable amongst themselves, they must return to the Court with any proposed change to the timetable.


In this case, Re W (Children) [2014] EWFC 22, click here the facts were broadly these:  Bristol City Council agreed with the other parties at an advocates’ meeting on 21st May to delay filing their final evidence for two weeks, i.e. from 6th June until 20th June to allow a family meeting to take place to discuss what support would be available for the mother should one or more of the children return to her care. This delay had a knock on effect on the filing of the respondents’ evidence and the Guardian’s report, which was particularly significant given that there numerous parties (the mother, four fathers in addition to the Children’s Guardian) to the point where the Guardian’s report was only received by the other parties the day before the IRH was listed.

This, the President stated, was unacceptable. He referred back to his earlier remarks in the case of Re W (A Child) (Adoption Order: Leave to Oppose) [2013] EWCA Civ 1177, [2014] 1 WLR 1993, [2014] 1 FLR 1266:
 “I refer to the slapdash, lackadaisical and on occasions almost contumelious attitude which still far too frequently characterises the response to orders made by family courts. There is simply no excuse for this. Orders, including interlocutory orders, must be obeyed and complied with to the letter and on time. Too often they are not. They are not preferences, requests or mere indications; they are orders.”
He reminded the parties that whilst in civil proceedings there is provision to extend directions by agreement for up to 28 days without permission of the Court, no such provision exists within the Family Procedure Rules, indeed quite the contrary. He cited the relevant rule, namely FPR 4.5(3):

"Where a rule, practice direction or court order –
(a)  requires a party to do something within a specified time; and
(b)  specifies the consequence of failure to comply,
the time for doing the act in question may not be extended by agreement between the parties."

Moral of the story: agreement to vary the court timetable between the parties is not good enough, it must be approved by the Court.

Zosia Keniston

For more information on Family Law, click here.