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The President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall, has issued new practice guidance for judges and magistrates on when it is suitable to direct a split hearing or to conduct a fact finding hearing.
Sir Nicholas is concerned that there has been an excessive increase in the number of split hearings being directed which are taking up a disproportionate amount of the court's time and resources.
A split hearing is a hearing divided into two parts, during the first of which the court makes findings of fact on issues either identified by the parties or the court, and during the second part of which the court, based on the findings which it has made, decides the case.
The guidance reminds judges and magistrates that the decision to direct a split hearing is a judicial decision and not a decision for Cafcass or for the parties.
In the guidance, Sir Nicholas gives the specific example of allegations of domestic abuse in a child contact case not automatically being a reason for a split hearing with a preliminary fact finding hearing. If the allegations are unlikely to have any impact on the court's order, there is no need for a separate fact finding hearing.
Sir Nicholas's guidance comes after the Chancellor George Osborne and Treasury minister David Laws outlined plans earlier this week to cut 325 million pounds from the Ministry of Justice's budget this year as part of the coalition's 6.2 billion pounds spending cuts to help reduce the budget deficit.
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