The call for fewer Fact-Finding Hearings

In response to recent news, Associate Melissa Jones looks at the comments made by the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane at Resolution’s annual conference in Birmingham.

Sir Andrew McFarlane looked at the “default position” in cases where domestic abuse allegations are made and the need to have a fact-finding hearing. His comments were “There was an urban myth among some judges that the Court of Appeal in HN said there needed to be more fact-finding. That needed to be clarified.”

The court must at all stages of the proceedings, and specifically at the FHDRA, consider whether domestic violence is raised as an issue, either by the parties or Cafcass (Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) or otherwise. The Court will decide whether a fact-finding hearing is necessary by reference to the revised Practice Direction 12J Child Arrangements & Contact Order: Domestic Violence and Harm, which sets out what the Family Court should do in any case in which it is alleged or admitted, or there is other reason to believe, that the child or a party has experienced domestic violence or abuse perpetrated by another party or that there is a risk of such violence or abuse.

If a Finding of Fact Hearing is required, then this is distinct and separate from other hearings. It can be a lengthy process and on average can last anywhere between 1-3 days. In some of the most serious cases of alleged domestic abuse it can last well over two weeks.

Such hearings, often seen as “mini-trials” can be financially taxing not to mention emotionally difficult for the parties involved. It is not an easy task, and a lot of time and preparation is needed coupled with the potential of such hearing causing further damage to the already fractious relationships of the parties.

There is a fine line to be drawn but care should be taken when pursuing the need for a Finding of Fact hearing and the underlying message it that it must be “necessary”. The court has a significant workload as it is, and it is only right that the court prioritises cases that Sir Andrew McFarlane refers to as those that “really do need to be heard”.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised here, please get in touch today. We are here to help you.

  • Melissa Jones

    Senior Associate