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29th April 2021

Prior to 1996 ancillary relief litigation was an anarchic free-for-all. Under the Matrimonial Causes Rules 1977 and the Family Proceedings Rules 1991 the parties were basically left to their own devices. The rules required only that they exchange “affidavits of means”. The parties were allowed to send as many questionnaires to their opponents as they wanted. They could adduce what expert evidence they wanted. They could present as many pages of evidence to the court as they wanted. If there was not an application for maintenance pending suit, or a summons for specific disclosure, the first time that the parties would meet at court would be for the final hearing, where, inevitably, discussions would ensue and a high proportion of cases would be settled.

The wastage of time and costs was causing considerable concern. The report of Dame Margaret Booth’s committee on Matrimonial Causes Procedure in July 1985 had suggested that in ancillary relief cases there should be a first appointment where the case would be carefully case-managed. But that proposal came to nothing. In January 1980 Booth J gave her judgment in Evans v Evans [1990] 1 WLR 575, [1990] 1 FLR 319. In it she said:

“The case has caused me anxiety because of the enormity of the costs which have been incurred in comparison with the assets which are available to meet the needs of the parties …the costs are out of all proportion to the assets … This is and was at all times an essentially straightforward case and if they are united in nothing else this husband and wife must be united in bitterly regretting the dissipation of their assets which has so unfortunately occurred.”

With the agreement of the then President, Sir Stephen Brown, she stipulated certain procedural requirements – see the contribution from Sir Nicholas Mostyn below. Needless to say, not much attention was paid to the stipulations.

From the foot of this unpromising state of affairs the Senior District Judge, Gerald Angel, set up the Ancillary Relief Working Party (ARWP), which met for the first time in July 1992. Later, Mr Justice Thorpe took over the chair. Over the next three years it laboured to produce a set of rules which would govern the procedure for ancillary relief cases with the intention that costs would be saved and efficiency promoted. It produced a draft rule together with accompanying forms in July 1995, at which point the Working Party was taken over by the Lord Chancellor and became his Advisory Group on Ancillary Relief. Between July 1995 and July 1996 the draft rule was honed. The Lord Chancellor agreed that it should be promulgated on a pilot basis in 27 courts. On 25 July 1996 the then President signed the practice direction bringing it into effect on 1 October 1996 (Practice Direction [1996] 2 FLR 368). The rest is history.

To celebrate the scheme’s silver jubilee we have gathered together a collection of memories from a number of the architects of the scheme as well as a selection of memories from users of it back in the day.