The Origins of the Financial Remedies Court – an Insider’s View (Part 2)

Published: 06/07/2022 07:10

On 29 October 2018, the President announced that, following further consultation, he had given the ‘green light’ for the pilot to start working in each of the additional eight courts I had identified: Financial Remedies Pilot extended [2018] Fam Law 1610. As he commented in his first View from the President’s Chambers in January 2019 [2019] Fam Law 26, 27:

‘The new scheme … is working well in Birmingham and the West Midlands, which was the first pilot area, and I am confident that this will be a successful and popular development in the other areas which are now beginning to come on stream.’

On 29 November 2018, the Court of Appeal (Sir Andrew McFarlane P, King and Coulson LJJ) gave judgment in Wodehouse v Wodehouse [2018] EWCA Civ 3009. It was serendipitous that the happenstance of litigation should have brought this case – a second appeal from the decision of a deputy district judge in an ancillary relief case – to the Court of Appeal, including the President, just when it did. For, what can only be thought of as the amazing decision at first instance surely squashed once and for all the ridiculous idea, voiced by some close to the ‘coal face’ who ought to have known better, who had opposed the concept of the Financial Remedies Court (FRC) on the basis that it was all a matter of ‘common sense’. The President was robust ([56]):

‘Unfortunately, … this case did not receive an adjudication which met with the requirements of the law relating to financial relief. In short terms, the Deputy District Judge made an order which was simply not open for the court to make. I hope that this decision is evidence of the value of creating a Financial Remedies Court – which is currently being piloted – so that only judges who are recognised for their knowledge of, and experience in, financial remedies cases following divorce will, in the future, sit on cases of this type.’

In his next View from the President’s Chambers on 7 May 2019, [2019] Fam Law 726, the President said:

‘Reports of the progress of the Pilot for the Financial Remedy Court at Birmingham continue to be entirely positive. The Pilot is now being rolled out in a further nine areas and I have made it plain that I would be happy to approve its adoption in any additional areas which indicate that they are ready to do so … its potential to provide a professional and experienced court to deal with Financial Remedy work is a prize of true worth that should be readily achievable and available in all parts of England and Wales.’

On 20 June 2019, Mostyn J, as the National Lead Judge, issued an appropriately upbeat Press Release [2019] Fam Law 1085:

‘I am delighted to draw attention to the successful extension of the Financial Remedies Courts project from its single original pilot zone (in operation since last year in Birmingham) to eight new zones … Lead Judges are in post in all zones. FRC ticketed judges have been identified in all zones. All zones are now operationally up and running, as planned … We are enthusiastically working on plans to develop the project. Our plan is to digitalise all financial remedies work and the necessary IT development is well under way, being in use in some areas with a plan to spread it rapidly and widely. We expect to make further announcements in the coming months to extend the project to geographical areas not currently covered … We plan to move the approval of financial remedies consent orders away from the Regional Divorce Centres to the FRCs as soon as this can be administratively achieved.’

On 7 November 2019, two important documents were issued, what one may think of as the founding constitutional documents of the FRC: View from the President’s Chambers, December 2019 [2020] Fam Law 162, 165. One was Financial Remedies Courts: Good Practice Protocol: see At A Glance 2020–2021, Table 19. The other, more significant for present purposes, was Financial Remedies Courts: Overall Structure of the Financial Remedies Courts and the Role and Function of the Lead Judge. It described the FRCs as having been established as a subsidiary structure working within the Family Court and explained that:

‘For the operation of the FRCs the PFD has established geographical zones across England and Wales. The zones so far created are set out in the schedule below. It is anticipated that more will be created in due course. In each zone a FRC will operate.’

The schedule listed 11 zones as being in existence in November 2019, the nine listed in my announcement of 27 July 2018 being joined by two more: in all, London (CFC), West Midlands (Birmingham), East Midlands (Nottingham), South East Wales (Newport), Mid & West Wales (Swansea), Cheshire & Merseyside (Liverpool), Humberside & South Yorkshire (Sheffield), Cleveland, Newcastle & Durham (Newcastle Upon Tyne), North & West Yorkshire (Leeds), Kent, Surrey & Sussex (Medway) and Greater Manchester (Manchester).

By the time At A Glance 2020–2021 was published in May 2020 (see pp iv and 28), the roll-out of the FRC pilot had been completed, another seven pilot zones having come into existence, making a total of 18 covering the whole jurisdiction: Norfolk, Essex & Suffolk and Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Hertfordshire (Peterborough), Thames Valley (Oxford), Bristol, Gloucestershire & Wiltshire, BANES & North Somerset (Bristol), Dorset & Hampshire (Bournemouth), Devon, Cornwall & South Somerset (Plymouth), North Wales (Wrexham) and Lancashire & Cumbria (Preston). In 11 of these 18 FRC zones the lead judge was a Circuit Judge; in the other seven zones a District Judge.

In his View from the President’s Chambers on 18 November 2020 [2021] Fam Law 17, the President said:

‘The Financial Remedies Court pilot has now been rolled out to all areas in England and Wales and is bedding down well as a regular aspect in the working of the Family Court. This is excellent news and all those involved are to be congratulated for taking up and implementing this project.’

On 24 February 2021, he issued his Message from the President of the Family Division: The Financial Remedies Courts [2021] Fam Law 469. He said:

‘I am pleased to announce that the Financial Remedies Courts (FRC) pilot project has now been completed … With the conclusion of the pilot phase, the FRCs should henceforth be regarded as an established and permanent part of the Family Court … The FRCs have a clearly defined structure. The zones and membership of the courts are set out in a helpful organogram published by the Ministry of Justice … The establishment of the FRC has been a success and I am therefore very pleased formally to put the project on a permanent footing within the structure of the Family Court.’

The organogram listed for each FRC zone every judge authorised to sit in the FRC in that zone. Referring to what he had said in Wodehouse v Wodehouse, the President continued: ‘The experience of the pilot project has vindicated my hopes’.

As the editors commented in At A Glance 2021–2022 (pp iii and 33):

‘No longer will the FRC be operating as an experimental scheme in a handful of pilot zones; it now covers the entire jurisdiction and its specialist judges will deal with all financial remedy cases from beginning to end … To have progressed from a mere idea in late 2016 to a permanent structure in early 2021 has been an outstanding achievement.’

The editors were too coy to suggest, so others must say, that so much of that outstanding achievement was due to the two national lead judges, Mostyn J and HHJ Hess.

Reporting on progress, the President said:

‘Almost all hearings are now successfully conducted remotely by video. Electronic bundles are universally used.

Consent orders are now all dealt with online, which has substantially increased efficiency. With effect from 15 February 2021, Forms A are to be issued at the zone hub rather than the regional divorce centre. Allocation will take place immediately and the case will find its way to the right judge in the right place without delay. In about half of the zones it is possible now to issue Form A and to upload all relevant documents online;1 this will be extended to all the remaining zones in the coming months. I am expecting that online issue and filing will become the standard process before the year is out.’

To flesh this out a little.

In autumn 2018, a pilot had begun allowing consent order applications to be made and considered online; it was administered at the South West RDC in Southampton. In a joint letter dated 3 July 2019 from the President and HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to the judges and HMCTS staff, it was noted that:

‘The pilot has proven popular with the solicitors and the judges taking part, and it has broken down the locational barriers for the judiciary that meant, all too often, there was an inadequate number of judges at the location where the work was. The judges involved can access the digital files and consider the applications from wherever they are working, all that is needed is access to the internet. The number of firms and judges taking part has increased significantly recently and the pilot is continually being improved based on feedback from those taking part.’

On 27 May 2019, a new pilot began allowing solicitors to make contested financial remedy applications online, now in the FRC hubs, starting with the CFC in London before being rolled out more widely: Pilot for online filing and progression of certain applications for a financial remedy [2019] Fam Law 866. The letter went on to announce:

‘Within the financial remedy element of the project more releases will follow during 2019, which will see the whole process from application to final order digitised, and hearings supported by better software and equipment to view documents and bundles in the court room and produce orders and track compliance with them.

Later this year, once both the consented and contested financial remedy products have been sufficiently tested and refined, they will be released to solicitors across England and Wales.’

On 24 August 2019, it became mandatory for represented applicants to file consent orders online at the FRC rather than in RDCs, with the orders being approved by FRC judges logging on remotely to the digital platform. With effect from 16 November 2020 these were moved administratively to a zonal based system. The represented respondent journey became live for financial remedy consent order cases in March 2021.2

In relation to the increasing use of modern IT, we should also note the Financial Remedies Courts – e-bundles protocol issued by Mostyn J on 3 March 2020 [2020] Fam Law 787.

The progress of reform did not come to an end with the President’s announcement on 24 February 2021.

A working group was set up, chaired by HHJ Stuart Farquhar, lead judge for the FRC zone for Kent, Surrey & Sussex, and with a geographically diverse membership of judges at all levels of the judiciary and practitioners. It was tasked to examine the ‘way forward’ for the FRC. It produced two immensely valuable reports: first, in May 2021, The Financial Remedies Court – The Way Forward: A Paper to consider the future use of Remote Hearings in the FRC; then, in September 2021, and with a more wide-ranging remit, The Financial Remedies Court – The Way Forward: A Paper to consider changes to the Practices and Procedures in the Financial Remedies Court. In his View from the President’s Chambers on 12 July 2021, the President rightly applauded ‘the enormous amount of time and effort put in by the members of the group in the preparation of these important pieces of work’. Both reports were published on 20 October 2021: [2021] Fam Law 1481.

The fruits of these vital endeavours were soon apparent. On 11 January 2022, Mostyn J and HHJ Hess, with the authority of the President, issued a Notice, to which were attached three documents, each dated 11 January 2022:

  • Statement on the Efficient Conduct of Financial Remedy Hearings proceeding in the Financial Remedies Court below High Court Judge level: as the Notice explained, this was modelled in terms of structure, language and content on the existing High Court Statement:
  • ‘That High Court Statement is now nearly six years’ old and is generally considered to have stood the test of time well … In devising the final version of the FRC Efficiency Statement we have given full consideration to the views of [consultation] respondents, while at the same time endeavouring to reflect the recommendations of the Farquhar Committee and the principles in the High Court Statement.’

  • Financial Remedies Court: Primary Principles: as the Notice explained, much material previously in the Financial Remedies Courts: Good Practice Protocol is now found in the new FRC Efficiency Statement. ‘Therefore, the Protocol has been substantially abridged and renamed the FRC Primary Principles’.
  • A revised version of Financial Remedies Court: Overall Structure of the Financial Remedies Court and the Role and Function of the Lead Judge.

The attentive reader will note that what were previously called Financial Remedies Courts are now called the Financial Remedies Court. Truly, this new court has come of age.

At the same time, on 13 January 2022, the up-dated Financial Remedies Court Organogram was published by HMCTS showing matters as at November 2021.

On 14 January 2022, Mostyn J, with the endorsement of the President, announced that a team of practitioners and judges led by HHJ Hess would be reviewing the standard financial orders. The ambit of the review is perhaps indicated by Mostyn J’s comment that:

‘The drafting of the money SFOs was completed in 2017 … There have been some amendments since then … but they have largely remained as they were first drafted. In the ensuing years they have become almost universally used in … money … cases; very few problems have been identified.

But if this success is to continue the SFOs need to be kept up to date in a world of continuously changing events and developments. The Covid pandemic, Brexit, the increased use of electronic working methods, as well as developments in the substantive law, have all contributed changes which need to be reflected in the SFOs.’

The same day, the President circulated to all family judges an App – The Family App – designed by Johnson J, the Judge-in-charge of Live Services. The importance of this impressive tool in the present context is that it includes all the standard financial orders, and the software enables them to be easily populated and filled in. We are all much indebted to Johnson J.

As all this shows, nothing stands still. Wisely, if I may say so, the architects of the FRC and its lead judges recognise the need for a continual striving after improvement. And, if I may be permitted to suggest, they have ready to hand the tried and tested Farquhar Working Group which has already so convincingly proved its value.

What then of the future?

Recognising that historians are not seers, may I nonetheless be so bold as to identify certain topics that require early attention?

First, the question of remote working in the post-COVID-19 world. In the specific context of the FRC this has, of course, been considered in detail by the Farquhar Working Group, but there is, naturally, a much wider debate going on across all parts of the justice system. What the outcome of all this will be is not yet clear. On the general issue of remote-working, I venture to make four points:

  • The idea that, once we have managed to put COVID-19 behind us, the courts will, or even can, expect to return to the status quo ante is absurd, tantamount to the idea that in 1946 the country could simply go back to how things were in 1938.
  • We need a debate infinitely more subtle, analytical, nuanced and sophisticated than anything which, so far as I am aware, had occurred pre-COVID-19.
  • We need to recognise, and this is crucially important, that the (sometimes complacent) views of professionals – judges, lawyers and others – are not always shared by litigants. Those designing systems for remote working in the post-COVID-19 world need to take into account the views of both professionals and litigants. The views of the two groups may differ and their interests may conflict. The decisions may be difficult, but that is no reason why the views of litigants should not be given great weight. After all, to put the point starkly: For whose benefit does the system exist – the lawyers or the litigants? Surely the latter.
  • Lastly, we cannot assume that what is appropriate for civil cases will be equally appropriate for family cases; nor, within the family justice system itself, that what is appropriate for children cases will be equally appropriate for money cases. My own view, for what it is worth, is that it almost certainly is not. It is therefore vital that whatever model for future remote working is applied in the FRC is the one which best suits the specific needs and requirements of the FRC and its litigants.

Secondly, the pressing issue of transparency. In the context of the FRC, this has been brought to necessary prominence, first, by the publication on 28 October 2021 by Mostyn J and HHJ Hess, the FRC Lead Judges, with the authority of the President, of their Consultation on a Proposal for a Standard Reporting Permission Order in Financial Remedy Proceedings, followed shortly thereafter and in quick succession by Mostyn J’s judgments in BT v CU [2021] EWFC 87, [100]–[114], and A v M [2021] EWFC 89, [101]–[106]. For my own part, I unequivocally applaud these developments. Wisely, however, the decision has been taken to seek the views of the Farquhar Working Group before proceeding further.

Next, there is the important question of public and media access to judgments. There are two aspects to this.

First, is the fact that published and reported judgments from the FRC are overwhelmingly confined to those in ‘big money’ cases, whereas the vast bulk of cases in FRC are of much more modest proportions, and thus fall to be determined by a different approach, the focus being on meeting need rather than equal division. This means that perceptions and understanding of what the FRC is doing are seriously skewed. What is needed is the publication on BAILII (not necessarily reporting in a law report) of many more judgments in these more typical cases, including, I emphasise, judgments by Circuit Judges and District Judges. This is not because such judgments will usually constitute citable precedents (which is why I am not advocating that they be reported) but because it is important for the public to be able to see how the FRC is operating and because the publication of such judgments will enable litigants and their advisers to have a better ‘feel’ for how the judges are dealing with such cases.

Secondly, and building on such thinking, there is a vital need for a publicly accessible case-law database. The principle here is simple: key data from every FRC case should be collected and then presented, anonymised, in a standard format available to all. One thinks, for example, of the standardised case reports in Current Law showing the damages awarded in personal injury (PI) cases. Other examples which spring to mind are, for PI, Kemp & Kemp3 and, for criminal law, the Sentencing Encyclopaedia.4 Initially, this could be done manually but once there is proper IT the entire exercise can be automated. And proper IT would enable the database to be used, if desired, as a predictive tool. In response to feeding in the relevant data from the case, modern AI, which, like it or not, is going to play an increasingly important role across the justice systems (as the Master of the Rolls has recently been explaining), could produce an indicative answer as to what the court might do in a particular case.

I claim no originality for these ideas, which have emerged from a joint project of the FRC judiciary and the Law Commission.

In his View from the President’s Chambers on 7 May 2019 [2019] Fam Law 726, the President said this:

‘As I described in my address to the Resolution Conference, the development of the FRC should bring additional benefits, for example, by adapting the data that is captured on the D81 Form, providing a ready resource that records the basic features and outcome of every Financial Remedy case so that, within a short time, it should be possible to publish tables identifying in broad terms the “norm” for particular categories of case or commonly encountered circumstances.’

In his Press Release of 20 June 2019 [2019] Fam Law 1085, Mostyn J said:

‘Recognising that reported cases often involve very big amounts of money not found in the normal run of cases, we are working, with the support of the Law Commission, on a unique web-based scheme to capture case final order data which in due course we hope will assist the achievement of consistency and predictability in mainstream financial remedies cases.’

This bold, exciting and innovative project, designed to maximise the use of modern IT, was further described in At A Glance 2019–2020, p iv:

‘The FRC judiciary and the Law Commission have established a joint project to gather the essential details of every case decided finally by the FRC, whether following a hearing or a compromise. Should the idea come to fruition, an interactive form will be devised to be completed in every case. The data will be assimilated and published online and will be fully publicly available. The idea is that within a year or so, a statistically viable sample, amounting to several thousand cases, will have arisen to enable an understanding of what is being done up and down the country by first instance judges in the exercise of their powers. This will enable the development of principles bottom-up, rather than being handed down in completely irrelevant cases from the lofty heights of big-money disposals at High Court judge level. The data when published and analysed will likely lead to far more cases settling, and a freeing up of resources in the family justice system generally. It is a radical idea, whose time has now come.’

Amen to that. I could not agree more. Who could possibly disagree? Surely not the judges or practitioners in the FRC. Yet this has not been achieved. Why not? For from that point it all seemed to be downhill.

In At A Glance 2020–2021, p 31, we were told:

‘The joint project of the FRC judiciary and the Law Commission to gather the essential details of every case decided finally by the FRC, whether following a hearing or a compromise, as referred to in the last edition, has proceeded slowly. It is hoped that progress will be made in the current year.’

In At A Glance 2021–2022, p 36, we were told:

‘The joint project of the FRC judiciary and the Law Commission to gather the essential details of every case decided finally by the FRC, whether following a hearing or a compromise, as referred to in the last edition, has stalled. At present the focus is on devising a new Form D81 (Statement of information for a Consent Order in relation to a financial remedy), which will show clearly the financial positions of the parties both before, and following, implementation of the consent order. This new form will be the foundation for the development of the essential data collection tool for the joint project. It is hoped that the new form will be approved for use during the current year and that the joint project can then move forward.’

This was very dispiriting news. The Minutes of the meetings of the Family Procedure Rule Committee during 2021 provide fitful if far from reassuring illumination and indicate clearly enough the cause of the problem.

In a world where legal aid is unavailable for many who have to litigate in the FRC, and where many are thus compelled to act as litigants in person, a case law database would be an invaluable tool. Is it too idealistic to think that it would enhance the administration of justice in the FRC while at the same time saving money – public money? I think not. Rapid implementation ought to be a priority, whatever the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) may think. That we are not further forward is, I am sure, not for want of energy on the part of the FRC Lead Judges. The responsibility, the fault, lies elsewhere.

Work on the revised Form D81 was in fact complete by the end of 2021. This was welcome news as was the ‘workaround’ for the absent IT announced by Mostyn J in ‘Notes on the Launch of the Financial Remedies Journal[2022] 1 FRJ 3, 4:

‘The new form when completed will contain valuable data showing how parties are settling cases. There is no reason why that data cannot be scanned, converted into Excel format, and then anonymised. The combination of data thus captured from consent orders and data derived from published judgments should enable academic analysts to be able to say pretty quickly how cases at varying levels are being settled or judged and whether there are regional variations. Ultimately it is my ambition, and that of the Law Commission, that the results of such analysis should be published and made accessible to litigants so that they can have a clear steer on how their case is likely to be dealt with.’

This is good news so far as it goes, but there has been too much delay. It is surely vital that the original project is resumed and driven forward with maximum commitment and energy.

This naturally leads on to wider IT issues.

An accessible process for court users using state-of-the-art IT and digital processes is both necessary and achievable. There are two aspects to this:

  • One is the outward-facing process by which the litigant interacts with the court – for the future, online, rather than by post or email.
  • The other is the back-office process (increasingly computerised and with little or no human input except where a judicial decision is needed) by which the court processes its cases and its orders.

The objective must be a system where applications to the court, court files and trial bundles are all electronic – where the FRC, in other words, is paperless.

We must harness the full power of modern IT in every part of the system. I draw attention to two key requirements:

  • Electronic generation of orders using interactive electronic forms of order which enable some parts to be automatically populated and others to be completed using ‘drop-down’ boxes. What this means is that the electronic court files must be able to interact electronically with the electronic database of standard financial orders. The simple reality, as I have consistently proclaimed, is that we will achieve the full potential of standard court orders only if the necessary IT in place.
  • Electronic generation of spreadsheets and other forensic tools from underlying case data.

This is all perfectly feasible, as the availability of commercial products so clearly demonstrates: consider the wonderful electronic tools provided by Class Publishing. And, thanks to Johnson J, The Family App enables the judges of the FRC to generate orders electronically. This is much to be applauded, but it only goes so far, for these tools are accessible only to the judges. They should also be made accessible to litigants, but the responsibility for that cannot rest solely with the judges. As described above, we have made great strides in making the FRC online and its processes electronic. But there is still much to be done before we achieve the vision I have outlined. I have no doubt that the necessary vision, commitment and urgency are not lacking in the judges and practitioners of the FRC. But are they to be found in Whitehall?

Next, proper accessibility to the FRC by its users and the public at large requires more than is currently provided by the ‘official’ websites, those provided by the MoJ, HMCTS and the Judiciary. These are better stocked and more easily searchable than previously (and I understand that work is currently under way to make further improvements), but they have their limitations. Crucially, there is yet, so far as I am aware, no single website providing free access, for anyone who wants it, to all the materials relevant to the FRC.

What is needed, I suggest, is a dedicated FRC website, controlled and managed by the judges of the FRC, containing, or providing links to, everything needed by a user of the FRC, professional or lay: for example, in addition to the proposed Guide to FRC, the relevant statutes, rules and practice directions, judicial guidance (whether issued by the President of the Family Division or by the Lead Judge in charge of the FRC), non-judicial guidance issued by the Family Justice Council (e.g. that prepared by the groups chaired by Roberts J and Francis J/HHJ Hess), forms, the Standard Family Orders applicable to financial cases, published judgments, and the case law database.

There is one final matter.

As I pointed out in my View from the President’s Chambers (17) [2017] Fam Law 607:

‘Ancillary relief is only one of the various types of financial remedy that are dealt with in family courts; others (see the definition in FPR 2.3) include claims under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, claims under Schedule 1 to the Children Act 1989, claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and claims under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA).’

I went on:

‘Surely what is called for is a system under which … all money claims as I have described them above are dealt with in accordance with a single set of rules providing, so far as possible, for a common form of application, a common set of forms, a common process and common procedure.’

But there was, as I observed, a particular problem which surely demanded a solution:

‘There is, as most family practitioners are all too aware, an obstacle to the bringing of 1975 Act claims or TOLATA claims in the Family Court. Section 25 of the 1975 Act and section 23 of TOLATA confine the two jurisdictions to the High Court (which of course includes the Family Division) and the County Court (which is now, of course, an entity quite distinct from the new Family Court). These claims do not, usually, require to be dealt with in the Family Division; the Family Court is their natural home. Practitioners are driven to the stratagem of issuing in the County Court and then inviting the District or Circuit Judge to sit for this purpose in the County Court whilst at the same time sitting in the Family Court to deal with any related family money claims, eg for ancillary relief. This nonsense is exacerbated in places – the Central Family Court being the most prominent example – where the County Court and the Family Court and their associated court offices are in different buildings. I cannot believe that this was intended; my assumption is that the point was overlooked by the draftsman of Schedule 11 to the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

The remedy could not be simpler. Section 25(1) of the 1975 Act requires that the definition of “the court” be amended by adding after the words “the High Court,” the words “or the family court,”. Section 23(3) of TOLATA likewise requires that the definition of “the court” be amended by adding after the words “the High Court, or (b)” the words “or the family court, or (c)”. This simple solution was identified and recommended by Sir Michael Briggs, as he then was, in his report on civil justice reform. It was rejected, without any adequate explanation by Government for reasons which are unfathomable. Is it really too late for Government to reconsider? Or does the inconvenience of litigants and the administrative burden on HMCTS count for nothing?’

So far as I am aware, this was simply ignored. Government has provided neither an explanation of why this nonsense should be perpetuated nor any indication of whether, and when, it might be remedied. The best part of 4 years later, in his Message from the President of the Family Division: The Financial Remedies Courts on 24 February 2021 [2021] Fam Law 469, 470, the President remarked mournfully:

‘I am hopeful that in due course legislation will be passed which will allow the FRCs to hear applications under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA) and the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.’

We can be sure he is doing his best, but, noting that he speaks in the language of hope rather than expectation, it is difficult to feel optimistic. Sometimes – as here – one simply despairs of the seeming lack of interest and obtuseness of Government.

And what, at the end of all this, is the vision?

Key to this, as will be apparent from what I have already said, is the need to harness and exploit the most up-to-date IT.

My vision is of the FRC as a flagship for the modern 21st-century digital court, a court which has finally abandoned the paper processes more characteristic of the world of Dickens.

If I may be allowed to say so, the FRC is blessed with a gifted and determined judicial leadership, both national and regional; a dedicated corps of dedicated and enthusiastic judges; highly skilled and supportive professionals; and a national and regional structure which ought to be the envy of less fortunate parts of the system. With all that going in its favour, why should the vision not become the reality?

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