The Central Family Court ("CFC") has launched a pilot scheme for a streamlined procedure intended to save the time and costs of parties and legal representatives physically attending a financial remedies First Appointment ("FA") in appropriate cases where directions have been agreed in advance and where the benefits of personal attendance are heavily outweighed by the attendant costs. It is intended to run until October 2014 when it will be reviewed.

It appears that the authors of the scheme anticipate its use will be the exception rather than the rule, observing that  in "the large majority of cases there is likely to be a personally attended First Appointment"

The procedure is only available when:-

  1. A signed draft consent order in a prescribed form has been submitted by email to the Financial Remedies Unit at the CFC at least 14 days before the FA; and
  2. Certain documents are filed by e-mail with the Court within the same timescale: Forms E (but not attachments), statement of issues,  chronology, questionnaires, Forms G and the catch-all  "any other documentation vital to the court's ability to approve a draft consent order"

The application to use the accelerated procedure and dispense with an FA will be considered by a District  Judge who it is expected will provide a response 'at least' 7 days before the date fixed for the FA, either approving or rejecting the Order.

Parties are explicitly told  to assume they are required to attend until told otherwise,  which may in practice limit the potential  costs savings particularly for parties who are coming from overseas who will need to have booked travel arrangements earlier than 7 days before hand.  Similarly an understanding about fees will have to be reached with  Counsel's clerk when booking an FA that may be subject to vacation under the pilot scheme.

Quite understandably the procedure cannot be used where the parties wish the FDR to be heard by a High Court Judge or if they wish to dispense with an FDR. Also a draft consent order providing for future questionnaires to be raised is 'unlikely to be approved'.

The scheme seems like an eminently sensible modification to the normal rule that could save costs in a number of cases if parties are careful to observe the prescribed requirements for submission of documents and ensure their consent orders are drafted with care.  It may also reduce the pressure on the CFC  Court diary and mean shorter waits for FDR appointments depending on the level of uptake.

It will be interesting to see how successfully the scheme operates in practice as it is clear from the opening paragraph that the results of the pilot will be analysed with a view potentially to extending it beyond the CFC to the Family Court sitting elsewhere.

The full pilot scheme and annexed standard form consent order can be found here:   

[NOTE TO EDITOR: http://flba.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/final-version-fru-accelerated-first-appointment-procedure-may-2014.doc]