About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Floating like a butterfly, not stinging anyone

I was recently in a case in the RCJ which should not have been floating but ended up doing so. For those of you not familiar with this predicament, in the RCJ you are usually given a fixture date ie a date where the court says you will be listed for hearing on such and such a date with a specific time estimate and barring Acts of God you will get on at the appointed hour or near enough. Or you can take an at risk hearing which means you turn up and hang around and hope to get a Judge if one of the other 50 million cases that day collapse. The RCJ has a relatively good track record of getting you before a Judge for at least some time even if you are listed at risk. But this is not much good when you need a whole day of court time. It is particularly galling therefore to turn up thinking you have a fixture only to find you are floating ie they haven't in fact got a Judge to hear the case but one might turn up. You only find out you are unexpectedly floating at about 3pm the day before. You are not generally given any explanation of the reason for this unless you specifically ask. You do not want to be the one jumping up and down about it as you are usually trying to negotiate with listing to get an alternative and one that fits everyone's availability so you need to be ultra-charming and not snarling about why you haven't got a Judge in the first place. Possbily your Judge went sick, possibly something else more urgent came along or something has overrun. In fairness to listing, I have not yet managed to find out what this is all about or the reason for the system they adopt to deal with floating cases but it is absolutely maddening and a huge waste of (usually public) funds. The other day there were 5 counsel, 2 lay parties, 2 social workers & a Guardian all hanging about. We go to court 33 and sit and wait. No one comes to speak to us to tell us what is going on or why we have been bumped off or when we might get heard. The pack of us had to troup up to the list office to find out when we might get another fixture (by this time our time estimate had expanded up to 2 days). Everyone is wildly inconvenienced - cases have to be returned to accommodate the new listing etc. In fairness, the court staff worked a miracle and are able to offer a date in 3 weeks. But who knows whether the same thing will happen all over again on the next occasion. Would it be too much to ask to install some kind of direct line to the list office from outside court 33 so that communication could be facilitated (a bit like the cab freephone in a supermarket)? Or that we could have somewhere to go an work while we wait or an indication of being released until 12 or something? And how do we then get the agreed directions approved and our wretched SIP form stamped. I will try to speak to the list office about this to hear it from their point of view and I appreciate they have a lot of their time taken up with Counsel having a hissy fit and managing the impossible but it does seem to me at least that in this day and age of technology, emails, mobile phones, & video links there must be a better way. Any thoughts?

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