New case progression rules are designed to speed up family law cases in the Circuit Court
As of the 1st October 2008 Family Law cases in the Circuit Court should be processed more quickly following the signing into law of new Circuit Court rules.
This is an extremely significant development as, while applications for Judicial Separation and Divorce can be heard in both the Circuit and the High Court, over 98% of all such cases are currently heard in the Circuit Court.
One of the major drawbacks for those involved in the formalisation of marriage breakdown through the Court system, has been the length of time it takes to obtain a date for hearing. In some instances cases can take over 2 years to come to hearing. As well as the volume of cases waiting to be heard, a major contributing factor to this delay has been the Courts inability to control the proceedings due to the fact that its powers are entirely reactive in nature – In other words, Circuit Court County Registrars have only been empowered to deal with such applications as the parties themselves choose to make. Nor has it been uncommon, when a County Registrar has had the opportunity to deal with an application and lay down a timescale, for one of the parties to complete ignore it until forced to do so by another application to Court, resulting in more delay and expense.
The purpose of the new rules is to ensure that proceedings are progressed “in a manner which is just, expeditious and likely to minimize the costs of the proceedings, and that the time and other resources of the Court are employed optimally”. This will be achieved by a process of case management to be known as "case progression"
Practically speaking this means that cases will be closely supervised by the County Registrar as they proceed towards hearing and that the issues at stake will be identified through what is described as “case progression hearings”. The County Registrar is now charged with the task of overseeing preparation of each case for trial and with generally monitoring the progress of each case pre-trial and making final arrangements for the trial itself.
Through this process it is hoped that the issues involved will be narrowed and proceedings will be afforded an intensity and direction which has heretofore been lacking.
The new rules closely mirror the case management provisions which apply in the Commercial Court and which revolutionized certain High Court proceedings by transferring the control of the proceedings from the litigating parties to the Court.
The volume of pre-trial motions in family law cases in the Circuit Court is considerable and the new rules , by affording greater powers to the County Registrar, will also help to relieve Circuit Court Judges of a large pre-trial applications caseload thereby freeing them up for trial work.
The County Registrar will now be allowed to establish what steps need to be taken to prepare a case for trial, fix a timetable for the completion of those steps or alternatively, adopt any timetable proposed by the parties if satisfied that it is reasonable proposal.
A County Registrars is presently empowered to make a range of pre-trial orders, including discovery, and may make ruling settlements, provided they do not involve children or dependants. In conjunction with these powers County Registrars will now also be able to make a range of additional pre-trial directions, such as the vouching of items in an affidavit of means and the identification of issues in dispute between the parties.
The new rules are an extremely welcome development - if you wish to discuss the formalisation of a marriage breakdown please contact us;