Court bundles, where do I begin? Despite an era of technology, family lawyers are still very much dependent on paper files and all court proceedings are paper based. All hearings in the UK require court bundles. This is usually a number of files containing all the documents relating to your matter. The person designated with the task of preparing the bundle must select the most relevant material which is necessary for the court to read or which will be actually referred to during the hearing. Court bundles must be prepared in accordance with Court protocol so that all bundles lodged with the court must be in a consistent format.
If you are acting without a lawyer then the onus of the bundle falls on the represented party. If both of you are representing yourselves then neither of you have to prepare the bundle unless directed to do so by the court. However if you take the responsibility of preparing the court bundles then it must be prepared and lodged in compliance with Court protocol.
From July 2014 the onerous requirement that a bundle cannot exceed 350 sides of text unless otherwise directed by the court came into effect. Mr Justice Mostyn further stated that this page limit included preliminary documents and skeleton arguments. If individuals thought limiting a tweet to 140 words was hard work then attempting to effectively zip a mammoth case file into the crucial 350 pages is no easy feat. Despite the threat of a wasted costs order several family lawyers have exceeded this limit either unknowingly or intentionally due to the fear of leaving out a potentially important document.
However recent cases indicate that the courts will not tolerate departure from the practice and in a recent case, Sir James Munby has clearly stated that family lawyers must comply ‘meticulously’ with the requirements. Anyone who lodges a court bundle when not directed to do so by the court will have their bundle returned and if sent by post, DX or by courier (who refuses to take them away) they will be destroyed without any prior warning.
In light of this Family lawyers/litigants in person must start preparing files with court bundles in mind. By earmarking documents that you consider important for bundles you have an ongoing idea as to the size of a bundle so you can consider whether you require a direction that allows you to exceed the 350 sides limit. Judge Mostyn recently confirmed that, in line with the Practice Direction, he‘expects that the a permission to use more than one bundle is obtained before, not at, the final hearing.’ Furthermore by having separated the bundle documents you provide yourself the opportunity to review your documents and reconsider whether it is truly relevant to the hearing. It is surprising what fresh eyes can do to your perspective on a document.
As the limit includes preliminary documents it would be wise to prepare on the basis that your bundle must be 330 pages and give yourself a generous allowance of 20 pages for the preliminary documents.
Clearly the limit of 350 pages causes several problems especially given the unpredictability of cases and the tight timeframes within which disclosure often has to be provided. There are broader issues of how the page limit impacts on the “overriding objective” and it is yet to be seen as to which avenue a applicant/respondent will pursue if a document they considered crucial is excluded from a hearing simply because the number of pages allowed has been exceeded.
If you want expert advice when it comes to separation or divorce, please contact me, Hardeep Dhillon, at The Law House Solicitors on 020 8899 6620. Alternatively, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org