In a much publicised and refreshing judgment, HHJ Wildblood QC has suggested that applications should not be made to the over-burdened Family Court unless they truly require Court involvement.

The judgment in Re: B (A Child) (Unnecessary Private Law Applications), [2020] EWFC B44 (September 2020) is concise and very strident in its criticism of matters being brought before the Court at a time when it is expected that the number of outstanding private law matters in Bristol will have doubled between January 2020 and January 2021.

Sadly, this account of the over-burdening of the Family Courts is being replicated nationwide with anecdotal evidence of, for example, a final hearing listed in July 2020 being adjourned to December 2021 when the time estimate was only 2 days. Both nationwide and locally there is also evidence that the sheer volume of applications, both private and public family law, is even having an effect on urgent public law applications being listed with one such application locally being adjourned off from September to a proposed listing in December.

HHJ Wildblood QC has been frank in his description of unnecessary litigation as wasteful and an “inappropriate use of limited court resources” which is not in line with the overriding objective. He sets out that “the Judges at this court have an unprecedented amount of work. We wish to provide members of the public with the legal service that they deserve and need. However if our lists are clogged up with this type of unnecessary, high conflict private law litigation, we will not be able to do so”. The Judge goes on to detail some of the applications which had been made to his court recently: how contact should take place, where handover should be etc etc. The case with which he was dealing at the time was an application for disclosure of medical records which, he indicates, could have been avoided if ‘common sense had prevailed’.

The judgment ends with a stark warning:

“..the message in this judgment to parties and lawyers is this, as far as I am concerned. Do not bring your private law litigation to the Family Court here unless it is genuinely necessary for you to do so. You should settle your differences (or those of your clients) away from court, except where that is not possible. If you do bring unnecessary cases to this court, you will be criticised, and sanctions may be imposed upon you. There are many other ways to settle disagreements, such as mediation”.

By sanctions, one can only imagine that the Judge means consideration of costs orders. What should be added to this guidance is, of course, Children Arbitration. Where negotiations between parties have deteriorated to such a point that an application to Court has been deemed necessary, it will be rare for mediation to be successful. Arbitration is a means by which the very issues which HHJ Wildblood QC is concerned with, the “high conflict private litigation”, can be determined swiftly and decisively without risking the sanctions which the Family Court may be minded to impose.

Children Arbitration can be offered remotely by 1COR, with availability for both interim issues and final hearings to be determined. Our clerks are happy to arrange your arbitration and answer any queries you may have about the scheme.