This month the powers that be have decided to move the Family Procedure Rules (FPRs) from their longstanding home at justice.gov.uk to the giant gov.uk website.

Whilst the justice pages were not perfect they were easy enough to locate from the justice home page and reasonably functional.

A search on google still shows the justice.gov.uk link but when clicked it redirects to the new pages.

For those looking for the rules now, they can be found here.

The move is not an obvious improvement:

  • Firstly, the rules are broken down into two separate chunks of 20 rules. This means one can’t move seamlessly from one rule to the next or look at the whole list of rules to find the one you need.
  • Secondly, the search function on gov.uk is very basic.
  • Thirdly, because of the chunking the rules can’t be searched as a whole, meaning each search will need to be performed twice (with the first batch of results being lost in the process unless you use two browser tabs).
  • Fourthly, the dates of amendments have all been lost.
  • Fifth and most important, it appears that bits of the rules are MISSING. For example, PD12B is missing para 2, Signposting Services, Parenting Plans & Public Funding, and para 4, the child in the dispute. We are not sure at the moment how extensive these errors are.

On that last point, this is what is currently showing on some parts of the FPR :

If one clicks on that link to the National Archive this is the somewhat off-putting page one is presented with. Not, we think, helpful for a litigant in person :

The justice.gov.uk was the only way of accessing the up to date version of the rules governing the family court (and the equivalent rules for other courts) for free online, and gov.uk is now in its place. Legislation.gov.uk hosts the statutory instruments that contain and update the rules, but not in consolidated (updated) form. These problems aren’t so important for lawyers, who have subscription services they can use to find and search the rules, but it does matter for the general public, and in particular litigants and litigants in person. If the rules aren’t searchable or complete how can litigants be expected to find, understand, follow and use them? (there is a whole separate question about whether the rules are accessible at all given their length, complexity and language, but that’s for another post).

There has been little if any notice of this move. There are many organisations who have prepared materials to help litigants in person navigate the family justice system, all of which will now refer litigants to the wrong place. Many of our posts contain links to the relevant part of the FPRs. It does appear that at least some of the links work, for example our recent post on a domestic abuse case links to PD12J, and that seems to redirect to PD12J in the new location. We hope that these redirects will not be temporary.

The same issues apply in respect of the Civil Procedure Rules, which have also been moved and broken into chunks of 20 rules. The Criminal Procedure Rules have been broken into myriad downloadable PDFs, which are even more fragmented.

Other important reference materials, such as the Cause Lists for the Royal Courts of Justice and Rolls Buildings in London, which list all the forthcoming hearings and judgments in the High Court and Court of Appeal, and provide details of how press and public can access remote hearings, have also been moved to somewhere in Gov.uk’s vast uncharted warehouse of content. Given the importance of court lists in the current lockdown to enable members of the public to access online hearings, this move could have serious implications for transparency and open justice.

We assume the reason for these moves is a plan to shut down the old Justice website, which remained separate from both the Judiciary website and that of the Courts Service (HMCTS). The Gov.uk website may be intended as a one-stop-shop for all government information, but until it provides better search and browse facilities it is really no better than a vast lucky dip as to whether you find what you’re looking for. (Top tip: use Google instead.)

We note the encouraging initial response on twitter from the Justice Minister to theses issues when raised by journalists and lawyers yesterday and today.

https://twitter.com/JohnHyde1982/status/1362382301775159300

The Gazette covered the story as it emerged here : Litigants Baffled as Civil Procedure Rules Move to New Site.

We will update in due course.

Feature pic : Once They Unlocked So Many Doors by Viewminder on Flickr (Creative Commons)

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The Transparency Project is a registered charity in England & Wales run largely by volunteers who also have full-time jobs. We’re working hard to secure extra funding so that we can keep making family justice clearer for all who use the court and work within it.

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