The recently new accelerated procedure for First Appointment hearings in London’s Principal Registry of the Family Division (PRFD) brings welcome relief to those involved in financial remedy proceedings at that court. Such proceedings were formerly known as ancillary relief.
According to guidance issued by the PRFD, the accelerated procedure is designed to avoid the unnecessary legal costs of attending a First Appointment hearing in certain cases where the parties have reached agreement as to what should happen at the hearing. In turn, this saves the parties and their legal representatives from having to attend the hearing and thereby reduces legal costs.
The new accelerated procedure is intended to be fully compliant with all relevant provisions of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 which apply to these types of hearings and proceedings.
When is the accelerated procedure available?
In order to adopt the accelerated procedure, the following conditions must be satisfied:-
- The parties must agree and sign a draft Consent Order in a standard form in accordance with a precedent issued by the court. The PRFD will accept a Consent Order signed by the parties’ legal representatives.
- The draft Consent Order must be accompanied by a number of required documents:
- The body of both parties’ Form E financial statements.
- Both parties’ First Appointment documents – namely their respective concise statements of issue, chronologies and questionnaires.
- Any other document vital to the court’s ability to approve the Consent Order.
- The signed draft Consent Order and documents referred to at paragraph 2 above must be filed with the court by email at least 14 days prior to the date of the First Appointment hearing. The court has set up a dedicated email address for this purpose which must be used.
- A District Judge must approve the draft Consent Order in advance of the hearing. The court hopes and expects that a District Judge will consider an application in accordance with this procedure and give a response by email at least 7 days before the date of the First Appointment hearing. The District Judge can decide not to approve the draft Consent Order and is not obliged to provide reasons for declining their approval. The District Judge can contact the parties by telephone to seek clarification on matters before approving the Consent Order. The court warns that approval will not be given in cases where the draft Consent Order includes provision for further questionnaires to be raised which the District Judge has not considered. If the District Judge does not approve the Consent Order then the First Appointment hearing will proceed on the due date in the normal way and the parties (and legal representatives) must attend.
When should the procedure not be used?
The PRFD has confirmed that the accelerated procedure should not be used where the parties wish to dispense with a Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) hearing and this means the draft Consent Order must make provision for an FDR hearing.
The court precedent for the draft Consent Order application under this procedure allows a time estimate of one hour for the subsequent listing of the FDR hearing. If the parties require a longer FDR time estimate then they must set out in their application a detailed justification for this which the District Judge will consider, but may not necessarily agree.
The accelerated procedure similarly cannot be used in cases where the parties wish the FDR to be heard by a High Court Judge.
Can the Consent Order include provision for costs?
The court has confirmed that the Consent Order can include provision for costs but anticipates the proper order for costs in accordance with this procedure should be “costs in the application”. However, other costs formulations may be permitted if agreed between the parties.
The writer of this blog hopes that the accelerated procedure for First Appointment hearings at the PRFD will achieve the desired result. Any cost saving for parties involved in expensive litigation on divorce must be welcomed, especially in London with its reputation for being the divorce capital of the world.