Rainscourt Family Law Solicitors

How do I appeal a Family Court decision?

An appeal is a complex process, and is therefore relatively rare.

The first step is to establish whether you need to obtain permission to launch an appeal.  If your case was heard by lay magistrates, you do not need permission to appeal.  Magistrates are volunteers, advised in court on legal points by a professional legal advisor. Many private law children cases are now heard by lay magistrates.

If your case was heard by a district judge, you need permission to appeal.  You can ask for the permission at the end of the hearing and inform the district judge that you would like permission to appeal their decision. You may be granted permission to appeal by the district judge. However, the district judge may refuse your request for permission.

If you are unsuccessful in obtaining permission, or you fail to ask for permission within the hearing, you usually need to file an appellant’s notice within either one week or three weeks of the date of the court decision, depending on the type of decision you are appealing.  It is possible to apply after this deadline, but you then need to additionally apply for permission for the late filing, which is called permission to appeal “out of time”.

The court will usually make a decision about whether to give permission to appeal without having a court hearing.  The court will only give permission to appeal where (a) the court considers that the appeal would have a real prospect of success or (b) there is some other compelling reason why the appeal should be heard.  The court may allow permission but on a conditional and limited basis, for example, in relation to one particular decision, rather than the entire decision. The types of mistakes which may merit an appeal are if the judge took into account irrelevant matters or ignored relevant matters, or otherwise reached a decision that was plainly wrong.

The general rule is that if you are given permission to appeal, your appeal will be determined by a more senior judge.  Generally, a decision made by a lay justice or district judge in the family court will be appealed to a circuit judge, and a decision of a circuit judge will be appealed to a High Court judge. An appeal in a case from Milton Keynes to a High Court judge may be heard in Oxford.

The appeal notice which you file must state the grounds of the appeal, and this is an important document, which requires careful drafting. It is not sufficient to state that you are unhappy with how the case has been dealt with and you think that the judge was wrong.  The document must set out why you think the decision was (a) wrong or (b) unjust because of a serious procedural or other irregularity in the proceedings.

It can be very difficult to assess your own case from an objective viewpoint, to establish whether these thresholds for appeal can be met.  This advice needs to be taken at an early stage. If you are considering an appeal, you should urgently obtain a transcript of your hearing and seek very urgent expert advice.

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