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Online filing is real-time on New Year's Eve: practice direction change to accommodate EU withdrawal arrangements

Date:3 DEC 2020
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Family lawyer

I have heard that there will be an amendment to the relevant practice directions to provide that online applications received on New Year’s Eve after 4:30 PM and before 11:00 PM will count as receipt on that date and not as the next day on which the court opens as is presently the position.  I have only heard a brief summary of the intended change and not the detail and this note will be updated.  But this is brilliant news and demonstrates appropriate responsiveness, awareness and initiative from the court service.  I have been advocating and arguing for this change for several months.

Of course, no one should be leaving it until New Year’s Eve, particularly New Year’s Eve evening for sending applications to the court.  But emergencies occur and sometimes last-minute instructions are received.  Therefore, it is crucial this is available. 

At present, FPR PD 5.2 says in terms that where there is online filing after 4:31 PM and at or before 11:59 PM the date of issue of the application will not be until the next day the court is open.  This would change in respect of New Year’s Eve 2020 so that online filing counts as the same day until 11:00 PM that day.

The EU/UK Withdraw Agreement 2019 provides that EU laws will continue to apply in respect of any case in which proceedings are instituted before the end of the transition period, 11:00 PM on 31 December 2020.  This will be relevant as to available jurisdiction because those rules will change afterwards.  It may be very important on forum as to where any competing proceedings take place.  It is likely to be most important on recognition and enforcement over the coming months, years and perhaps decades.  A divorce order which easily enables remarriage and recognition of status across the EU.  Arrangements for a child which continue throughout the child’s minority.  A needs-based order to provide for a child during minority or long-term spousal maintenance which can be enforced around the EU.  There are many reasons why there can be benefits in being able to rely on EU laws and which requires instituting the proceedings this year.  
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It is also important to avoid the pressure on the court offices around the country especially in the run-up to Christmas and the New Year.  Not only should proceedings be started before mid-December but specifically they should be online which is a far better process in most cases.  So, this development means that the most crucial element of the online filing of timing allows for real-time filing online on New Year’s Eve, even after the 4:30 PM deadline under the current PDs.