In March 1994, the Lord Chancellor appointed Lord Wolf to review, and make recommendations for the reform of, the Rules of Court. At that time, the rules which applied to the High Court were known as the Rules of the Supreme Court 1965, and in the County Court, the County Court Rules 1981. Following what became known as the Wolf Reforms, there emerged a single body of Court rules covering the same procedural matters as those formerly covered by the Rules of the Supreme Court and the County Court Rules and these became known as the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (‘the CPR’). There were exceptions however, notably, the rules governing family proceedings in the Courts.
Her Majesty’s Court Service and the Family Procedure Rules Committee were charged, in 2004, to deliver a new set of unified Family Procedure Rules for all tiers of Court. After some six years in the making, on the 6 April 2011, the new Family Procedure Rules (‘the FPR’) came into operation. These new rules relate to family proceedings across all tiers of Court dealing with family matters, namely, the High Court, the County Court and the Magistrates Court. They provide for a single set of rules of Court and codes of procedure, dovetailing with the Civil Procedure Rules 1998. So we now have the CPR and the FPR.
The four key objectives of the FPR, are the modernisation of language, streamlining of procedure and harmonisation with the CPR, a single, simply expressed unified code of practice and procedure similar to the CPR for all family proceedings and alignment at all levels in Court.
The new rules reviewed language and style and left out what was perceived as outdated language in favour of a more modern style. Gone from the new rules are such phrases as ‘cause lists’, ‘special procedure’. ‘Leave’ has been replaced by ‘permission’. ‘Ex parte’ is replaced by ‘without notice’ and ‘liberty to apply’ is replaced by ‘permission to apply to the Court’. Some of the old terminology has also been changed with more modern, user-friendly plain English, which mirrors that of the CPR. For example a Decree of Divorce is now known as a ‘Matrimonial Order’ and a Divorce Petition is now an ‘Application’ and the Petitioner is now the ‘Applicant’.
It was intended to take out words such as ‘prayer’, a phrase included in a divorce petition and ‘decree nisi’ and ‘decree absolute’. Apparently however the cost of updating the Court’s software was so prohibitive, that (certainly for the time being) the terms now remain. As far as possible, the new Family Procedure Rules have been harmonised with, and styled on the Civil Procedure Rules so that there is now one set of simply expressed rules of Court for all family proceedings.
Proceedings for ancillary relief are now no longer ‘ancillary’ to the divorce, or dissolution proceedings to which they relate. The proceedings for divorce and financial order are now separate and distinct entities. Such proceedings will now be known as ‘proceedings for a financial order’ and the term ‘financial remedy’ will apply to all such related proceedings. More revolutionary, is the fact that proceedings for a financial order will now cover a wider range of financial proceedings, rather that just divorce. The emphasis being on, at the earliest opportunity, a full and frank disclosure of the parties’ respective financial positions and proposals for settlement of financial issues.
It will be interesting to see how these new family proceedings rules will develop and it is likely, in the not too distant future, that the words ‘petition’ and ‘decree nisi’ and ‘decree absolute’ will disappear completely. The consensus of opinion is that the rules governing family proceedings have now moved into the 21st century.