The Family Procedure Rules 2010 came into effect on 6 April 2011. The new Rules attempt to provide a single set of rules for all family proceedings in all levels of court, thereby replacing a large body of unconsolidated rules, practice directions, guidance and forms. At the same time, the Rules aim to modernise many aspects of family procedure and, where possible, harmonise with the Civil Procedure Rules.
To assist practitioners, the Ministry of Justice has set up on their website a sub-site dedicated to the Rules, at www.justice.gov.uk/guidance/courts-and-tribunals/courts/procedure-rules/family/index.htm. This is the product not just of the new rules but also of the government’s rationalisation of its websites, in particular the demise of the much-used HM Courts Service (now HM Courts & Tribunals Service) site, the functions of which have been spread far and wide.
The first problem is finding the sub-site which is buried deep within the Justice site. To find it from the home page, follow the path Guidance – Courts and Tribunals – Courts – Procedure Rules – Family.
What does the sub-site contain? Well, apart from its own “home page” (which, slightly oddly, contains details of What’s New, despite there being an Updates page) and a site feedback form, it is divided up into nine sections:
Foreword. A foreword to the Rules by the President of the Family Division Sir Nicholas Wall.
Introduction. A general introduction to the Rules, apparently written by The Stationery Office (“TSO”).
Rules and Practice Directions. The meat of the site, comprising a page setting out all of the Rules and accompanying practice directions, together with links to the Rules (one page for each Part) and practice directions, in both html and PDF format.
Glossary. A page with a link to a brief glossary of terms used in the Rules. Quite why the glossary has to be on a separate page, I don’t know.
Forms. A page with links to all of the new forms that go with the new Rules, listed in order of the form numbers. Each form opens a new window on – wait for it – the HM Courts & Tribunals Service website, where the old forms used to be, although whether the ultimate intention is to transfer them over to the Justice site, I’m not sure. As before, the forms are in fillable PDF format. This is not a comprehensive set, but the most common forms all seem to be present.
Index. A pretty comprehensive-looking index to the Rules and practice directions, complete with links. This seems to me to be one of the most useful features of the entire site.
Updates and Zips. A page for updates to the Rules. The reference to “zips” is to “complete document sets”, which are supplied as compressed “zip” files for downloading.
Statutory Instruments. Contains, strangely, a link to the FPR 2010 on the legislation.gov.uk website. Quite why we need this when the Rules are already here on the Ministry of Justice sub-site is not clear.
Contact. A page containing email links for queries regarding the Rules, the forms and the FPR website. There is also a link to (the) TSO shop, where you can order paper and CD-Rom versions of the Rules.
What the sub-site does not contain is any sort of commentary to the Rules, save for the brief introduction. A detailed commentary of the sort that can be found elsewhere would have made the site of real use to practitioners.
This brings me to my main criticism. The site is clearly intended for practitioners, but how many practitioners are actually going to use it? Surely, they are going to look to the usual places (eg the Family Court Practice – the “red book”) when they wish to refer to the Rules and practice directions, and they will already have their own versions of the forms? There is nothing here that practitioners can’t better find by looking somewhere else, save perhaps in the unlikely event that they find themselves somewhere with a computer and an internet connection, but no red book.
Having said that, the Ministry of Justice is, of course, to be commended for what it has done here. Along with the longer-standing sister sites for the Civil Procedure Rules and the Criminal Procedure Rules, we all have free one-stop access to the rules, practice directions and forms used by our courts.
John Bolch is a solicitor with more than 25 years’ experience in family law. He is author of the Family Lore websites and Do Your Own Divorce, a guide for litigants in person. He now works as a freelance writer.