Following discussions with HMCTS, I am proposing to pilot the Financial Remedies Court (FRC) concept in three places, starting, I hope, in February 2018: London, the West Midlands and South-East Wales. I envisage that further pilots will follow quite shortly on a rolling programme.
The basic concept, which builds on both the Family Court and regionalised Court of Protection models, is as follows (please note that the terminology is not yet finalised):
A number of regional hubs, typically two per circuit (population or geography may require more), at which both the administration (HMCTS) and the judicial leadership for the relevant hub area are based.
A lead judge for each hub area: this must be a judge (either a CJ or perhaps a DJ) with real experience/expertise in financial remedy work.
A national lead judge with a deputy. Mostyn J and, as his deputy, HHJ Hess have agreed to fill these important positions.
Hearings will be conducted (a) at the regional hub and (I emphasise this, because it is very important) also (b) at a number of Financial Remedies Hearing Centres (FRHCs) within the hub area.
Initially the FRC will deal with ancillary relief cases; in due course, this will be extended to all financial remedy cases dealt with in the Family Court or Family Division.
Only ‘ticketed’ judges will sit in the FRC. All DJs and CJs currently in post who do this work will be ‘grandfathered’ in.
The FRC will function quite separately from the Regional Divorce Centres: initially in accordance with the current principles regulating ‘administrative de-linking’, pending full ‘legal de-linking’.
Initially, the FRC will function with paper files, as at present, but HMCTS, with my support, is already working on transition by the FRC to a fully digitised model.
It follows from this that three critical issues relate to:
The location of the proposed FRC hubs.
The locations of the proposed FRHCs.
The selection of the lead judge for each FRC hub.
In relation to the three pilots, local discussions on these matters are under way. Thought is also being given to where and when the next wave of pilots should begin.
I have kept the Association of District Judges aware of my thinking.