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Managing Family Law Client Expectations (And Those Of Former Partners) In These Days Of Court Cutbacks
These days we are constantly asked why it takes so long to progress people’s cases when they expect their divorce or financial consent order, once applied for, to move forward relatively quickly.
 
The court system is, frankly, in melt down. Telephone enquiries which were once handled by courts are now dealt with by centralised call centres where the call handlers do not have access to the physical court file. If they cannot see notes on the computer system, they have to contact the court to ask for the file to be examined. This takes days.
 
Here are some recent examples of the delays we have been experiencing:
 
  • One court recently advised one of our family team members that it is taking 38 days to deal with correspondence, even where marked urgent.
  • Another court failed to send out a sealed order from November until after repeated requests it was received around 2 months later.
  • An order on another case is awaited from mid-March despite the court being chased.
  • Acknowledgments of service of petition are taking weeks if not months to receive from the court, so even progressing a straightforward undefended divorce to decree nisi takes far longer than it used to or should.
  • Changes to addresses for service are not being made consistently, meaning that some documents are being sent to the wrong place.
  • One application for decree nisi was sent to a judge in mid-March and has not been heard of since.
  • Documents have been lost by courts and have had to be re-filed.
  • Other documents requiring further information have sat at court without the request for further information being made of us.
 
All in all, this broken system seems to be getting worse not better. The Law Society Gazette reported in February 2019 that the Bury St Edmunds Centre for divorce (which is the centre that deals with divorce and financial consent orders in London and the South-East) had unprecedented delays in 2018. They reported that Her Majesty’s Court & Tribunal Service (HMCTS) had told them the number of staff had increased  since the beginning of 2019, however, in our experience this has not yet had any positive effect.
 
Such delays can be disastrous where urgent attention is needed and clients’ interests can be prejudiced severely. Where action needs to be taken before a sealed order is received, for example where a third party needs to receive a copy of an order in order to provide an expert report, further delays can result. And, perhaps worst for many clients, their costs end up being increased because of the need to chase the courts and/or explain the delays to them and/or the opposing party.
 
It is notable that the difficulties are attracting judicial attention. For example, Sir James Munby, formerly the President of the Family Division of the High Court, stated in his judgment on 17 April 2017 in Baron & Others (4 Defective Divorces) [2019] EWFC 26:
 
It is, unhappily, notorious that some Regional Divorce Units have become bywords for delay and inefficiency, essentially because HMCTS has been unable or unwilling to furnish them with adequate numbers of staff and judges. What is revealed by two of the three cases that were handled by Regional Divorce Units are other failings which I cannot help thinking may have been due, at least in part, to the same underlying problem: people under pressure if there are not enough people engaged to do the work are more prone to make error. The sooner the entire process of divorce is made digital from beginning to end the better.
 
In the end, without a significant injection of funds and staff into the court system, we can only say that everyone involved, whether clients or lawyers, will have to exercise extreme patience when dealing with the courts. Take a deep breath….
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Should I Settle My Personal Injury Claim Now or Wait
This sounds like a daft question and is one that sometimes I cannot answer. All I can do is give my client the facts and let them decide whether to settle their personal injury claim now or wait.
Let me explain. Mr A was involved in a car accident 2 months and suffered soft tissue injuries to his neck and shoulder. Liability has been admitted by the negligent driver’s insurer and so the next task is to gather evidence to prove that the accident was the cause of Mr A’s injuries. In legal terms, this is known as medical causation.
To establish medical causation, I must instruct a Medico-legal expert to examine Mr A. Following the examination, the expert will prepare a report detailing the injuries which Mr A suffered and the prognosis, i.e. how long, in the expert’s opinion, it will take for Mr A to recover from his injuries.
Using this report I can assess the potential value of the claim in terms of the injuries suffered. This all sounds straightforward and now you are wondering why anyone would ask whether they should settle their claim now or wait.
Apart from in very rare circumstances, once a personal injury claim is settled, it is settled. You cannot go back for a second bite of the cherry. Remember, Mr A had the accident two months ago. The medical expert is of the opinion that Mr A will recover from his injuries one year after the accident. The choice Mr A now faces is whether he should settle the claim now on the basis that his injuries will fully resolve in a year, if not before, or wait until the end of the prognosis period.
If Mr A settles the claim before the end of the prognosis period but his injuries continue past that year or indeed become worse, he will not be able to return to the Defendant’s insurer to claim extra compensation.
So as much as my clients might like me to answer this question for them, I can’t. All I can do is give my client their options, settle the claim now in the hope that the injuries will have resolved by the end of the prognosis period… or wait.

By Ruth Hinchliffe
 
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Can you deal with your own personal injury claim?
Of course you can! Whilst there are some obscure pieces of legislation out there, there is no law which states you must have a lawyer conduct your personal injury claim for you.
However, it should be borne in mind that insurers have a duty to act in the best interests of their shareholders. Valuing a personal injury claim is a matter of professional judgement and the insurers will know that you are unlikely to have any idea of what your claim is potentially worth and they are under no obligation to tell you.
A tactic that I have heard of when a claimant pursues their own claim is insurance companies advising that there is no need to involve a lawyer as their fees will be excessive. This is nonsense. Remember, the insurer has a duty to their shareholder. As lawyers, we must act in the best interests of our clients and secure the best settlement possible. Insurers put up a fight against lawyers, so what chance does a non-lawyer stand?
The personal injury lawyers at GC Solicitors are well versed when it comes to insurer tactics and have had many clients who have come to us asking for assistance as the insurer has made an offer but the Claimant has no clue what their claim is potentially worth. If this is the position you are in, we will happily assess your claim and fight to get you the best possible settlement under a No Win – No Fee Agreement.


By Ruth Hinchliffe
 
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Friendly Divorce?
Justice Secretary David Gauke has announced the current law in England and Wales relating to divorce is to be changed. The reason? To help end what has been described as the “blame game”. Under the current law, one spouse has to allege the other has committed adultery or has subjected them to unreasonable behaviour for divorce proceedings to start straight away. These are often described as ‘fault based’ grounds for divorce. This is all well for the person alleging but when you look at the bigger picture, it is almost certain that this will draw an even bigger wedge between an already distanced couple. The “no-fault” divorce grounds take longer and allows time for reflection.

The government has stated that new rules will include a minimum timeframe of six months from petition stage to decree absolute – the final stage of the divorce process. In addition, there will be a new option which will allow couples to apply for a divorce jointly. The BBC’s legal correspondent has said “
fault, blame and having to prove two or five year’s separation were not seen to be helping couples move on with their lives - and that's why they are being consigned to legal history.” It is hoped that these changes will allow separating couples to part ways with less conflict arising. This is turn will reduce the emotional impact a divorce can often have on children of the family. Divorce does not have to be a lengthy “blame game” anymore and the new rules could mean that children are no longer exposed to ongoing conflict or the feeling of having to choose sides. If you require any assistance with divorce, separation or sorting out child arrangements following separation please get in touch with one of our family solicitors.

Bunsri Bhuwa
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