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Court

The Family Court
Magistrates/District and Circuit Judges
What Should I wear? 
And Other Questions...

The Family Court

The Family Court includes Magistrate and County Courts. Sometimes the County Court is called the combined court.

Family courts hear both emergency and non-emergency cases. 

A family court is private, the public cannot just walk in to hear what is happening.

The family court hear two main types of cases:

Private Law and Public Law.

Private Law includes disagreements about child contact, urgent domestic abuse orders and divorce and finances.

Public Law includes cases where there is a serious worry about a child's safety.  In public law cases there is also a court called FDAC - this is the Family Drug and Alcohol Court. 

Magistrates

Magistrates are volunteers who hear cases in courts in their community.

 

They can hear cases in the criminal court, the family court, or both.

Each case is usually heard by 3 magistrates, including a magistrate who is trained to act as a chairperson.

A legal adviser in the court gives advice on the law and makes sure the magistrates follow the right procedures. The legal advisor is a qualified solicitor or barrister.

Family magistrates are specially trained by the Judicial College to deal with issues affecting families, including training on domestic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour. They receive regular updating training to ensure their expertise in family law remains up to date

Magistrates can:

  • arrange for a child to be taken into care or put up for adoption

  • help separated parents make arrangements for their children

  • enforce child maintenance orders

  • make court orders to prevent domestic abuse

When magistrates come in or go out of the court room you should stand.

You call a magistrate Sir or Madam.​

Deputy District Judges and District Judges

Deputy District Judges

and District Judges apply for a job just like any other. They must be qualified and have at least 5 years experience as a solicitor, barrister or legal executive. 

Family judges are specially trained by the Judicial College to deal with issues affecting families, including training on domestic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour. They receive regular updating training to ensure their expertise in family law remains up to date.

At the hearing the judge will hear from you and your ex-partner (or your solicitor if you have one). The judge will then make a decision based on what they have read and heard about your case, and the law that applies to your case.

Deputy District Judges and District Judges can:

  • arrange for a child to be taken into care or put up for adoption

  • help separated parents make arrangements for their children

  • enforce child maintenance orders

  • make court orders to prevent domestic abuse

A District Judge has usually been a Deputy District Judge before. 

A Deputy District Judge is often part time. They can do the same things as a District Judge.

Usually a Deputy District Judge and District Judge do not wear robes in the family court.

You call a Deputy District Judge and a District Judge Sir or Madam.

Circuit Judges and Recorders

A Recorder is a solicitor or barrister in England and Wales with at least 7 years’ legal experience. They often work part time.

A Circuit Judge is a solicitor or barrister in England and Wales with at least 7 years’ legal experience, often they will have been a District Judge.

Recorders and Circuit Judges can:

  • arrange for a child to be taken into care or put up for adoption

  • help separated parents make arrangements for their children

  • enforce child maintenance orders

  • make court orders to prevent domestic abuse

They will usually deal with more serious cases.

 

Some Family Circuit Judges will be Designated Family Judges, they are responsible for the  Family justice at each major court centre. 

Usually a Recorder or a Circuit Judge do not wear robes in the family court.

You call Family Recorders and Circuit Judges Your Honour.

Clerks and Ushers

The usher prepares the court room for the hearing. They make sure that everyone involved in the trial is taken in to the courtroom at the right time. The usher wears a black gown.

The court clerk sits in front of the judge’s bench and helps the judge make sure the case runs smoothly. They keep a record of the hearing including a note of people that are attending. 

Security

When you attend court you will be searched. It is a bit like going to an airport.

Security will check your bags and you will walk through a metal detector. Anything in your pockets have to be put into a tray before you walk through.

There are some things that you cannot take into court, anything like knives are obvious (including pen knives!), other things include perfume or deodorant. 

When you go to security if you have a drink with you they will ask you to have a sip of it.

What Should I Wear?

Court is a serious matter, however you are not expected to wear a suit.

You should wear something smart. 

Will I Have To See My Ex In Court?

In 2021 the government passed an Act called the Domestic Abuse Act.

 

This means that if you are the survivor of domestic violence and abuse that you can have a special screen put into place so you don't have to see your ex. 

You can also ask for a separate waiting area to them.

Who Can Come With Me?

You can have a family member or friend come to the court with you.

 

However it is unlikely that they will be able to come into the court room with you.

If you want someone to come into the court room with you they will have to complete a form to ask the court for permission, this is called being a McKenzie Friend.  

You cannot have a solicitor and a McKenzie Friend.

Can Someone Watch My Case As It Happens?

Family Courts usually 'sit in private', this means that someone cannot walk in an listen to your case.

In some courts they are trialling the press reporting on the case. You will be told if this is the case for you.

Family Court and Social Media

The family court is know as a private court.

There are serious consequences to putting anything about your case on social media (or discussing it with anyone not involved).

The best advice is don't put anything on social media about your court case.

 

It is also good advice not to put anything on social media about your ex-partner!

How to Behave In Court

Simply put - be good!

Don't talk over the other side, you will get your turn (you or your solicitor/barrister if you have one).

Be polite to all court staff.

It sounds obvious, but shouting at your ex across the waiting room isn't the best way to prepare yourself for the hearing.

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