St John's Chambers is one of the foremost sets practising family law on the Western Circuit. Practitioners at the set are well known for their expertise in high-value financial remedy work. Interviewees regard this as 'one of the top leading sets in Bristol and the South West.' "
With the imminent extension of the Financial Remedies Court (FRC) to Bristol there will be increased encouragement from the Court for parties to engage in Private FDRs (Financial Dispute Resolution hearings). Financial remedy specialists in the St John’s Chambers Family & Divorce team have experience in offering this service.
The FDR is a key stage of the financial proceedings and one at which the vast majority of cases settle. This method of resolution offers clients an affordable, responsive and quality route to settlement. The FDR is a rapid, flexible and responsive tool that adapts to the particular circumstances of each case.
In July 2018 the President had this to say about Private FDRs in the context of the new FRC:
- “I hope that the lead and other judges will take the opportunity to develop and encourage the use of ‘private’ FDRs locally. A private FDR is a simple concept. The parties pay for a financial remedy specialist to act as a private FDR judge. That person may be a solicitor, barrister or retired judge. No additional qualification is required. The private FDR takes place at a time convenient to the parties, usually in solicitors’ offices or barristers’ chambers, and a full day is normally set aside to maximise the prospects of settlement. It takes the place of the in-court FDR.
- At present, demand on court resources has led to instances of over-listing of FDRs. A high settlement success rate is not likely to be achieved if the district judge’s list for the day has more than five FDRs in it. This has the inevitable knock-on effect of far more cases being listed for a final hearing than should be so – a classic example of the law of diminishing returns.
- Although a private FDR does require some (often quite modest) investment by the parties, this expense can be greatly outweighed by the advantages gained. The very fact of investment by the parties will signify a voluntary seat at the negotiating table rather than a sense of being dragged there. The ‘hearing’ can take place at a time convenient to the parties, even in the evening or at a weekend, and for as long as the parties want. The private FDR judge will, by definition, have been given all the time needed to prepare fully for the hearing.
- Anecdotal evidence suggests that private FDRs have a very high settlement rate. Of course, each settlement frees up court resources to deal, sooner and more fully, with those interim and final hearings that demand a judicial determination.
- Usually, where the parties have agreed to a private FDR, the order made at the first appointment will record such an agreement in a recital, and will provide for a short directions hearing shortly after the date of the private FDR. That directions hearing can be vacated if agreed minutes of order are submitted following a successful FDR.
- If it has been unsuccessful then directions for the final hearing can be given. An alternative is for the case to be adjourned generally while the private FDR process takes place. In that event an order in the terms of para 81 of standard order No. 1.1 would normally be made.”
On the day of the private FDR the barrister involved will provide both parties with a [non-binding] indication as to the most likely outcome should their dispute(s) proceed to court. An agreed bundle of relevant documents is sent to the barrister in advance of the private FDR hearing. An indication may be given on one or more issues and on one or more occasions during the day. The clients attend for the FDR with their respective lawyers and are provided with their own rooms during the day.
Reasons to choose a private FDR over a traditional court-based FDR:
- Cost: the parties split the cost of the FDR session between them.
- Focus: the private FDR is tailored to the circumstances of each case and the nature of the dispute. The case will be the absolute priority of the private FDR judge. He / she will have had plenty of time to read into and thoroughly / understand the issues.
- Time: the private FDR is scheduled for the day, on a date to suit the parties not one fixed by the court, faster than a court listing, and the time pressures of court attendance are removed.
- Quality: all papers will be read in advance and the parties can be assured of a fully-informed private FDR.
- Flexibility: the private FDR can respond to the nuances of the particular dispute and the direction and pace of negotiations on the day.
- Privacy: a private FDR is just that: private. No-one other than the parties, their lawyers and the chosen judge need know when or where the hearing is taking place.
Our family clerks can arrange Private FDRs in Chambers itself or at a location to suit the parties. FDRs can also be held as an alternative to, or at any stage of, Court proceedings. Our clerks can also advise professional and lay clients on the appropriate specialist to conduct these hearings.