The Family Division and the Family Court
The Family courts in England and Wales are the Family Court and the Family Division of the High Court. Most Family cases are heard in the Family Court. A limited number of cases are heard in the Family Division of the High Court, for example cases involving international child abduction and cases involving the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court. The Family Division of the High Court also hears appeals from certain decisions made by Circuit Judges and Recorders in the Family Court. The Family Court and Family Division of the High Court are headed by the President of the Family Division.
The judges of the Family Court and the Family Division of the High Court do not normally wear judicial robes and the proceedings are more informal than those in a Criminal Court. This reflects the often very sensitive nature of Family proceedings and the need to ensure that proceedings do not increase the distress of the parties involved.
In the Family Court and the Family Division of the High Court, parties in a case are sometimes represented by lawyers. Where legal aid is not available, and the party cannot afford representation, the parties may represent themselves before the court.
The lawyers who represent parties in Family cases have been specially trained. The children who are the subject of the cases will have their own lawyer in public law cases and can have a lawyer in private cases if the judge thinks they should. In both cases the judge will have reports from an expert court officer from Cafcass, who will talk to the children and get to know their wishes.
Hearings in the Family courts are held in private but the press and legal bloggers may attend a hearing, subject to the power of the judge to exclude them. Where the press or legal bloggers attend, they may not report what is said in the hearing without the permission of the court.