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Court Bundles (PD 27A) - essential update

16 APR 2014

Family Law special issue

It's what we've all been waiting for ... OK, it probably isn't but we have a new version of the Practice Direction on bundles and you still need to know what to put in them. The moral of the story is (amongst other things) keep it to the essentials and don't put too much in. I can empathise with this having once watched an exasperated judge hold up his bundle at the start of a hearing only for all the pages to fall out on his desk. Not the best way to begin.

In a nutshell:

The President has issued the new version of Practice Direction to achieve consistency in the world of the Family Court bundle. Practice Direction 27A - Family Proceedings: Court Bundles (Universal Practice to be Applied in the High Court and Family Court) gives details about how bundles should be presented, by whom and where and when they should be lodged.

When:

22 April 2014 (save for some provisions including the one about bundle size which will be July 2014)

The Statutes and Statutory Instruments that make the changes:

Practice Direction 27A - Family Proceedings: Court Bundles (Universal Practice to be Applied in the High Court and Family Court)

Summary of the changes:

On 14 January 2014 the President issued a draft Revised Bundles Practice Direction for discussion and comment ([2014] Fam Law 226). Following further amendments we now have the new Practice Direction.

The changes of substance are to paragraphs 2.4(c), 3.1, 4.1, 4.3(i), 4.4, 5.1, 6.1 and 10.1(c) of the old Practice Direction 27A. The new Practice Direction applies to all hearings before a judge sitting in the Family Division of the High Court wherever the court may be sitting and all hearings in the Family Court. It applies whether a bundle is being lodged for the first time or being re-lodged. It doesn't apply to urgent applications if and to the extent it would be impossible to comply with it.

A bundle must be provided by the party in the position of applicant (or, if there are cross-applications, by the party whose application was first in time) or, if that person is a Litigant in Person (LiP), by the first listed respondent who is not a LiP. Where all the parties are LiPs none of them are obliged to provide a bundle (unless specifically directed to), but if they choose to lodge a bundle, this must comply with the practice direction.

If possible it is always best to agree on the contents.

The bundle should contain copies of only those documents relevant to the hearing which the court needs to read or which will actually be referred to during the hearing. The bundle should be arranged as follows:

(a) preliminary documents and any other case management documents required by any other practice direction;

(b) applications and orders;

(c) statements and affidavits (which must be dated in the top right corner of the front page);

(d) care plans (where appropriate);

(e) experts' reports and other reports (including those of a guardian, children's guardian or litigation friend); and

(f) other documents, divided into further sections as may be appropriate.

Section 4.3 provides details of the requisite preliminary documents to include (the usual case summary and statement of issue(s), etc) and there is a list of what not to include (unless directed by the court) at section 4.1 such as correspondence, medical records and financial records to name a few. There is also guidance on what to include when a complete bundle would be unnecessary, and when a bundle is re-lodged.

Documents should be arranged in chronological order from the front of the bundle, paginated and indexed, and divided into separate sections. Unless the court has specifically directed otherwise (don't hold your breath), the bundle should be in one A4 size ring binder or lever arch file with no more than 350 pages (one side of text only) and should be clearly marked with the details of the case on the front and spine.

The party preparing the bundle shall, whether or not the bundle has been agreed, provide a paginated index to all other parties not less than 4 working days before the hearing. It should be lodged with the court not less than 2 working days before the hearing. In the case of a hearing listed before a bench of magistrates four copies of the bundle should be lodged with the court.

It is wise to ensure you lodge the bundle at the appropriate office or the court may treat is as having been not lodged at all, or impose a penalty for failure to comply; including the case being removed from the list, put further back and/or even a costs order.

Time estimates should be inserted at the front of the bundle with agreed (if possible) estimates of judicial pre-reading time, evidence and judgment delivery time.

To do:

Most elements of the Practice Direction come in on 22 April 2014 but put a reminder in your calendar that from July 2014 the provision limiting the size of the bundle to a single lever arch file is to be brought into effect.

Note there are additional requirements in place for any bundles being lodged at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Familiarise yourself with the Practice Direction as no-one wants a wasted costs order for a sloppy bundle.

If you can, ensure you get proof of posting or a receipt (if delivering bundles by hand) so that this can be produced to the court if requested.

The Practice Direction should be read in conjunction with the Public Law Outline 2014 (PD12A) and the Child Arrangements Programme 2014 (PD12B).

Check out our Family Law Reform page, which is a free resource bringing together everything you need to know about the family law reforms in one place. On that note, the new version of the Red Book will be published soon with the amended version of the Children Act 1989 and FPR 2010, and insightful expert commentary. The Practice Notes in Practice Plus are currently also being updated to be up to date with all the 22 April 2014 changes.

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Amy Sanders is a Family Law PSL at Jordan Publishing and was formerly a children and family solicitor practising in London and more recently in Devon.

She can be contacted on Twitter: @Amy_Sanders1

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