The matter, which was reported by the media in 2012, is an unusual one because it centres around public family law and concerns a private interest intervener, seldom seen in such cases. The matter took an unconventional turn in April of this year, when the intervener, a former medical professional, requested to be joined to the case in order to access documents held by the local authority, a current party to the proceedings. The subsequent communication between the intervener and the presiding judge was deemed invalid – the intervener had not followed procedure. A formal application was then made at the direction of the judge, requesting that the intervener also provide evidence in support of the application in order to ascertain whether such permission should be granted.
The process also requires that such an application be served on all parties to the proceedings, who in turn are then given the opportunity to respond to the application and make submissions to the court. Matters progressed further when theintervenerin the case requested an amendment to the application to intervene, so that further parties could be joined to the case. Multiple interveners are still considered a rarity inthird partyinterventions relating to public interest cases; such a request in a public family law case then, is noteworthy indeed. An issue now arises as to whether the parties will be joined to the case independently, creating a series of joint interventions, or whether one intervention (a singleintervener), representing all parties wishing to intervene is moreappropriate.
The reasons a judge may choose to minimise the number of parties intervening in this case, or in any case, stem from the need to reduce delay and avoid duplication during the proceedings. As interveners usually become involved in proceedings to assist the judge in resolving matters in dispute, what of theintervenerwho wishes solely to be joined so that he or she may access documents for another matter? In this case, the intervener, who sought to make a formal complaint against other medical professionals, asked the court to be joined so that the Council documents in question might be released for the purposes of that complaint.
This case raises interesting questions aboutintervenersin public family law cases. The Civil Procedure Rules allowing for intervention do so within a very narrow remit – the matter in question must be connected to the proceedings. In this case, it might be argued by some of the parties that a request for documents being used within proceedings to facilitate an external complaint, even if the complaint is linked to those proceedings, does not fall within the ambit of the Rules, nor the essence of intervention. And while intervention can be viewed as a positive element in cases where that intervention may enrich the judicialdecision makingprocess, it is perhaps debatable as to whether intervention in this context would do so, as the request does not appear to add to the proceedings in any way.
The court is likely to be concerned by applications which unnecessarily take up valuable court time too, and historically a certain degree of restraint has been demanded of interveners as well as an implicit understanding that their involvement adds something to the proceedings. How the judge in this case will perceive this intervenor’s request for materials in the court bundles is yet to be seen.
There are some truly fascinating, and as of yet unanswered questions in relation to interveners – who are they, how many family law cases involve them and do they distort or clarify judicial process? As a result the law, quite rightly is wary of intervention, for whilstintervenerscan and do offervaluableinput, the courts must be careful that they do not unwittingly become a forum for specialised interests and unreliable evidence.
The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.