Family Law Update: Order!

Monday 17 December 2018

Written by Christopher McWatters of the Garden Court Chambers Family Team.

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If you’re anything like me, the prospect of having to draft an order at the conclusion of a hearing weighs heavy on the professional soul.

This is even more so since the introduction of template orders, with nine-tenths of the order taken up with information such as significant dates for the child (Halloween? Black Friday?). A fresh CMO can take over an hour to draft. This is usually followed by respondents amendments by email, with several variations of the order which then has to be argued over and consolidated, often followed by email submissions to the judge. This post-hearing email lawyering can go on for days, weeks even.

HHJ Tolson QC, the designated family judge at the Central Family Court, is campaigning to put an end to these delays. A document he has drafted, ‘Legal Representatives, A Short Order Today Please’, sets out a new policy at the court whereby orders have to be drafted and approved at court on the day of the hearing. Orders have to be kept to the minimum, with no need to keep to ‘narrative’ formats. In other words, we can now go back to the old days of drafting an order with a couple of recitals and the directions required, all of ten minutes' work.

But were the old days of drafting orders really so great?  I was at the Central Family Court the other day at a directions hearing where the case needed a certain amount of re-timetabling. We came out of court at 11.15am expecting to be done and dusted by 11.40am. At 12.30pm several of us were pacing outside the conference room where the order was being drafted, as others entered and re-entered, staring over the drafting advocate’s shoulder, adding and rewriting recitals. A sense of outrage emerged when the court usher informed us that the judge would see us at 2.00pm. Oh, for the days of drafting the order from home we thought. Then one of us noticed we had earned an extra unit. We had worked through lunch.

Christopher McWatters is a member of the Garden Court Chambers Family Team.

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