New Case Management Rules for Family Court Cases

From 25th September 2023 new rules for family court cases will come into effect. For cases starting on or after that date an initial case management hearing will be scheduled at the same time as the first child welfare hearing. The intention is to consider how the court case is going to be handled from the outset, rather than the current practice of leaving this until later.

There will now be a checklist of factors to consider at the initial and subsequent case management hearings. These factors include a note of matters that are in dispute, potential complexities or difficulties in the case, expert or skilled evidence that is required, what needs to be done to obtain the views of the child or children in the case and a variety of other factors.

While the child welfare hearing continues to provide a less formal opportunity for the sheriff to take stock, this early case management forces the parties to present a wide range of factors to the court at the outset. Sheriffs should be able to assess whether an evidential hearing is required quickly rather than a series of child welfare hearings.

Other changes in this new set of rules include timescales for the review of sists (pauses in the court action), extension of referrals to mediation, and stronger reference to judicial continuity. The new rules state that  “where possible” the same sheriff shall preside over the case management hearing (initial and full), the pre-proof hearing, any child welfare hearing and any proof, proof before answer or debate.

If this can be achieved across all of Scotland’s 49 sheriff courts it would help restore confidence in the system. At present many parents find that their case is heard by a range of different sheriffs, and some cases are heard by five or more different sheriffs. Shared Parenting Scotland will monitor shrieval continuity and will contact sheriff principals if we find that this is not happening under the new rules.

A new edition of our Guide To Representing Yourself in the Scottish Family Court covering the new case management rules will be issued shortly.