Solicitors with cases being heard at Central Family Court have been told they do not always have to turn up with their barristers. The suggestion is one of 24 contained in wellbeing guidance issued this month by His Honour Judge Robin Tolson QC.
HHJ Tolson says the court, in London, values the wellbeing of everyone. Contested litigation, and especially a courtroom, is a 'stressful environment', particularly for those not used to it.
On attendance, HHJ Tolson says: 'We don't need teams of people. One lawyer is almost always enough. Solicitors do not ordinarily have to attend with barristers. Team managers do not have to attend with social workers... Lawyers and professional witnesses must be committed to cases, but must juggle their commitments and judges and magistrates must understand this and be understanding. This applies when listing cases and on a day by day basis.'
Tolson says listed hearings should not begin before 10am and should finish by 4.30pm. 'If the court intends to sit late, then an enquiry as to whether and to what extent this is consistent with everyone's commitments is expected of the judge or magistrates. Everyone needs a lunch break so the court should rise for an hour at lunchtime. Ideally the lunch break should be between 1pm and 2pm. Significant variations should not be made by the judge or magistrates without warning.'
Practitioners can email when they like 'but there is no need, as far as the court is concerned, to reply to an email after 6pm or before 8am. Hitting "Reply All" is often unnecessary and adds to the burden of "All".'
Under a section headed 'Mis-Describing Cases', HHJ Tolson says: 'Urgent means urgent. Maintaining that a hearing is urgent when it is not is queue-jumping (or worse) and adds to stress.'
The guidance concludes that the court is resourced only for cases within its catchment area or particular jurisdictions. 'It may be convenient for practitioners to bring out-of-area cases here but it adds to the workload and stress levels of staff and courts,' HHJ Tolson says.
Draft guidance was circulated among family practitioners in August. Wellbeing has also been at the top of the family division president's agenda - in June, Sir Andrew McFarlane warned that those in the family justice system were 'playing a long game in terms of our careers, our health, and our private and family lives'.