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Entries in court rules (3)

Wednesday
May152013

Family Court reform picking up speed

The working group on family court reform convened by Lord Brailsford will be recommending significant changes to procedures in family cases.

In a speech last week Lord Brailsford indicated that the working group will recommend that much more of each case should be conducted on paper and that specialist family sheriffs should take responsibility for case management and impose strict timetables.

These measures should prevent ex-partners from using the courtroom as avenue for continuing their own unresolved issues.

He also supports greater use of technology in the hearing of evidence, including video- and tele-conferencing. He gave the example of a recent Hague convention child abduction case in which evidence was heard using on online connection with a party litigant in Melbourne.

Families Need Fathers Scotland has offered to give our views on court reform to the working group.

A change to Sheriff Court rules that comes into force on June 3rd is intended to speed up proceedings in cases involving disputes over the care of children.

Before a proof hearing, a case management hearing will take place in order to consider the issues.  Before that hearing parties will have to to meet to discuss settlement, agree matters not in dispute and discuss what should be presented to the sheriff at the case management hearing.

This should help to streamline the proof hearing, as well as exploring any possible resolution beforehand.

Wednesday
Mar132013

Lay representatives get a voice in Sheriff courts from April

New Sheriff Court rules allowing an accompanying person to speak on behalf of someone who is representing him or herself in court come into force on April 4th 2013

This change, which has already been made ace in the Court of Session, brings Scotland closer to the "Mckenzie Friend" arrangement which has been possible in the English courts for many years. 

It doesn't mean that non-lawyers will have unrestricted scope to act in court, but it will help in situations where people representing themselves (party litigants) find it difficult to speak up because of lack of confidence, strong emotions,  lack of understanding of the court process/terminology or other reasons.

The lay representative will have to ask the Sheriff's permission at the start of the hearing and sign a form.  They will be allowed to attend family court hearings which are closed to the public, but have to agree to keep the details of the case and court papers confidential.  They cannot accept any payment for carrying out this function.

Sheriffs will only grant the request if they consider that it would assist their consideration of the case, and other parties to the case can raise objections.

Families Need Fathers Scotland will monitor how this change operates in the Sheriff Courts.  We will write to all Sheriff Principals asking for consideration of the sort of issues which we know already occur in English courts with Mckenzie Friends. 

When the Sheriff Court rules changed to allow lay assistants, we came across Sheriffs who were not aware of this change, so we will stress the importance of all courts and all Sheriffs understanding the new arrangements from the outset. 

We still recommend people to have a lawyer with them in court if they can, but welcome this change which will help some of people who cannot afford a lawyer or are not represented for other reasons.

Our "Guide to Representing Yourself in the Scottish Family Courts" will be revised shortly to include these changes.

Monday
Sep242012

Court changes: case management and closures

Responding to proposals to introduce a mandatory case management hearing in family court proceedings involving section 11 orders (contact and residence), Families Need Fathers Scotland comments that case management needs to start at the outset of any court hearings, not just when the case is heading to a proof hearing.

 

We also point out that new procedures shoul acknowledge that people who represent themselves in court (party litigants) should be acknowledged in the new court rules. The procedures, forms and language used in court proceedings should be transparent and obvious for these party litigants and plain English information should be made available at all times, including when Sheriffs announe the outcome of hearings.

 

A consultation has just been announced about closure of some of the smaller Scottish courts.  Sheriff courts in Alloa, Cupar, Dingwall, Arbroath, Haddington, Stonehaven, Dornoch, Duns, Kirkcudbright and Rothesay are facing closure.

 

Concentrating services on the larger courts may make it easier to introduce specialised family sheriffs in all Scottish courts but it will be more difficult for people in the more remote parts of Scotland to attend hearings, making it even more important to streamline the management of court processes.