On January 23rd 2017, the President of the Family Division and the Court of Protection, Sir James Munby, visited the Bristol Civil Justice Centre to have general discussion with local professionals about recent developments for the Court of Protection.
There is clearly considerable cross over for discussion about developing the procedures for the CoP and the family courts, given that both courts deal with a high volume of vulnerable litigants. The President was clear that he wanted to encourage discussion as it was very important for him to know what was actually happening on the ground.
He first summarised the three important elements of CoP activity;
• Regionalisation – this is going very well. CoP based in London was seen as remote and not serving customers. Justice is local. Consequence of regionalisation was vast increase in cases which are likely to continue to rise.
• Transferring to the CoP those family court disciplines which we know work well from the Public Law Outline. Emphasis should be on timetabling and identifying issues at outset to stop proceedings ‘grinding on’.
• Transparency – the recent pilot was designed to:
o Test whether we can sensibly move forward – answer is yes
o Bring CoP up to speed with family courts
o Designed to test what is going beyond what we are doing in family courts. It is important to improve public understanding and stop the CoP being inexorably linked to the phrase ‘secret court’.
Of the three elements, the President considered that regionalisation was the most important. We need to bring work to where we are meeting needs of our customers. It is a common complaint that CoP does not adopt the same approach as Mental Health tribunals, which are quick and efficient and sit locally .
The discussion then opened to the audience. Sarah Phillimore asked, as trustee of the Transparency Project whether or not recent newspaper reports of increased transparency in the family courts were correct. The President replied that recent reporting was not entirely correct but that he was determined to move forward with transparency in current calendar year. However, further evaluation was required of the CoP pilot and the research from Dr Julia Brophy and Dr Julie Doughty (herself a trustee of the Transparency Project).
So hopefully there are interesting times ahead for transparency in the family courts.
Further questions came from the audience about how mediation could work in CoP cases and whether or not a regional CoP mediation pilot would be helpful.