Client guide: Final hearings in financial remedy proceedings
Arriving at the hearing
You should dress smartly and arrive at the time suggested by your solicitor. We will often suggest arriving an hour before the hearing is due to start to give time for negotiations with the other side, and discussions with your barrister. It is useful to arrive slightly earlier than we suggest to give you time to orientate yourself.
The judge should be addressed as sir or madam. You will be addressed as Mr or Ms followed by your surname. Similarly, the barristers will refer to each other as Mr or Ms followed by their respective surnames; they also sometimes refer to each other as ‘my learned friend.’
Depending upon the complexity of the case, a final hearing may last from half a day to several days. Each day will last from approximately 10:30am to 4:30pm with an hours break for lunch.
Format of the hearing
The applicant’s barrister will begin by making an opening statement to the judge setting out the background of the case.
The applicant’s barrister will then call his/her first witness. The witness will be asked to answer questions, often by referring to a court bundle (this is a collection of evidence the solicitors have put together in advance of the case.) After the applicant’s barrister has finished asking questions of the witness, the respondent’s barrister may ask questions of the witness (this is referred to as the cross-examination.) Following this, the applicant’s barrister may ask further questions of the witness to limit any damage done by the respondent’s barrister in the cross-examination (this is referred to as the re-examination.)
The applicant’s barrister will continue to call witnesses until all have been questioned in the manner described above. It is then the turn of the respondent’s barrister to call his/her witnesses. The applicant’s barrister may cross-examine any witness of the respondent, and the respondent’s barrister will then have an opportunity to re-examine the witness.
When all the witnesses have been examined, cross-examined and re-examined, the evidence of the case is deemed to have been concluded. The barristers then make closing speeches (referred to as the final submissions.) These speeches summarise the merits of their respective client’s cases and articulate what their client would like the outcome of the hearing to be. The respondent’s barrister will give his/her final submissions first and the applicant’s barrister, last.
The judge will then make the order; this may be oral or written. If the judge is giving an order that day, the respective parties will usually be asked to wait outside the courtroom and will be called back in when the judge has made his/her decision. If the judge is giving a written order, it will be sent to the parties simultaneously within a time period specified by the judge.
It is likely that both you and your spouse/partner will be called as witnesses in the case. There may also be additional witnesses such as financial experts, property experts or pension experts.
When being asked questions, respond in a calm and measured manner. Try not to become accusatory or overly emotional. If you are unsure of what the question means, politely ask the barrister to repeat or explain the question.
During the cross-examination, you may feel like you are being attacked or put under pressure to give a certain answer, respond as honestly and clearly as you can. If the question being put to you is unfair or inappropriate, your barrister will object to it on your behalf.
As far as possible try to remain calm and collected during the course of the hearing. Be aware that the other party’s barrister is likely to say things that you will find upsetting or will make you angry. You may also find that your character is attacked, try not to become riled by this and view it as a tactical move by the other side.
If there is something you would like to say whilst in the courtroom write a note to your solicitor or barrister. It is not good court etiquette for you to speak unless you are a witness being asked a question. You may find it useful to take a note during the hearing as it may help to keep you calm and focused; however it is not necessary for you to do this, as your solicitor will be keeping a record of what is being said.
Try not to ask your solicitor or barrister questions out loud during the hearing, instead write them a note. It is important that your barrister is able to concentrate on what is happening in the case and respond to issues raised in addition to communicating with yourself where necessary.
In family cases it is rare that any orders are made regarding costs, but in exceptional circumstances the judge may order that one party pay some or all of the other party’s costs.