We have our first View from the President, from our new President.
Here it is
A few working groups established, and due to report by Easter 2019 (Public Law, Private Law and Experts)
A lot of the speeches that the President has given are about work volumes and well-being, and that’s the focus for this post.
In the meantime, every professional engaged in work in the Family Courts must, I fear, continue to experience the adverse impact of the high volume of cases. I have, on every occasion that I have spoken about these issues, stressed my concern for the well‐being of social workers, lawyers, judges and court staff who are conscientiously continuing to deliver a professional service in a timely manner despite the increase in workload. Other than doing what I can to understand and address the underlying causes (which will obviously take time), there is little that I, as President, can do to relieve the current pressure. It is, however, I believe right for me to say publicly in this ・View・ something which I have said on some occasions to some gatherings in the past few weeks. In these highly pressured times, I think that it is neither necessary nor healthy for the courts and the professionals to attempt to undertake ・business as usual・. For the time being, some corners may have to be cut and some time‐limits exceeded; to attempt to do otherwise in a situation where the pressure is sustained, remorseless and relentless, is to risk the burn‐out of key and valued individuals in a system which is already sparely manned in terms of lawyers, court staff and judges.
I would encourage local dialogue between the legal profession and each DFJ on this topic so that some parameters may be agreed as to what is and is not sensible or acceptable in terms of working practices during the next 6 months or more. The following are no more than suggestions for what might be discussed and agreed:
‐The earliest time of day when the court can reasonably be expected to sit;
‐The latest time of day when the court can reasonably be expected to sit;
‐The latest time in the evening, and the earliest time in the morning, when it is
acceptable to send an email to another lawyer in a case or to the court;
‐Reducing the components to be expected in a ・Position Statement・ to the
minimum required (for example simply one side of A4 using bullet points) on the
basis that a fuller oral position can be outlined at court if required. Other possible topics for agreement may well present themselves to those of you who are regularly undertaking this work.
As family lawyers and judges it is, for me, a total ・given・ that you will go the extra mile for the sake of the child, the parties and the system when this is needed. You will, I am sure, continue to do so. My present purpose is to acknowledge publicly that we are currently in a situation that cannot be accommodated simply by working beyond what can reasonably be expected every now and again. As Sir James Munby rightly observed before 2016, when declining the encouragement of others to require the courts to make an extra effort to achieve the 26week deadline, the system then was working flat‐out. That was before the 2016/17 increase of 25% in workload. In terms of considering just what the system can sustain recalling Sir James・ words at this stage is timely. My aim in now saying what I have is to give each of you, as the psychologists would say, ・permission・ to have a sensible discussion with each other and establish a dialogue between local professionals and the local judiciary in order to develop sensible parameters and guidelines on what can, and what should not, be expected from those appearing before and working in the courts.
There will be some interesting discussions arising out of this. (For my part, I would love to see an end to Position Statements that say the same as the statement filed two days before, or ‘instructions will be taken at Court’ or ‘my client has not yet provided instructions on this issue’ – as all of that adds nothing)
Can the genie of ‘always available by email’ be put back in the bottle? I’m not sure, but I think it would be a very healthy debate to have. It savagely impacts on quality of life when people can never switch off from this work, which is emotionally draining and challenging in and of itself, without never having any down-time from it. I applaud the President for moving away from font sizes, margins and the welfare of the bundle is paramount approach, and thinking about things other than process.