There is now, from 22 April 2014, a single Family Court in England & Wales.
In my experience there are an ever growing number of international relocation of children cases, for example, where one parent wants to take a child out of this country to another country.
Historically, these type of international cases were reserved to a High Court Judge; and more recently before a Circuit Judge in some cases.
From now on the cases are to be allocated:
- Countries which are not signatories to the 1980 Hague Convention on child abduction – High Court Judge
- Countries which are signatories to the 1980 Hague Convention – District Judge
- Countries which are signatories to the 1980 Hague Convention but which are unusually complex in legal or factual terms – District Judge or, exceptionally, Circuit Judge.
Countries who are signatories to the 1980 Hague Convention can be found here.
Does any of this actually matter though?
In my view, yes, it does matter.
The seniority of judges, very quickly runs down the ladder as follows:
• High Court judge
• Circuit Judge
• District Judge
I think in practice most cases will be allocated before a District Judge; and so we have really a reverse of what has happened before in terms of the seniority of the judge deciding the case. These types of cases can be very complex, whether in relation to the facts of the case, the legal procedure or regime in a foreign country, reciprocal enforcement arrangements, the need for international judicial liaison and so on.
The impact of the court’s decision could also have serious affect and long lasting changes for the family; and importantly the child.
It remains to be seen what is to happen and we will wait to see if there is any amendment to the rules or comment by a future appeal court.