Category Archives: DFJ News

Newsletters and circulars from the local Designated Family Judge, HHJ Stephen Wildblood QC

DFJ News News

New Videos show what a Financial Remedies Hearing looks like

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Two short videos have been produced by HHJ Cope with solicitors and barristers playing the various roles. The first video shows what happens before the first court hearing. The second video shows the court hearing itself. The films are aimed at helping parties who are involved in financial remedy proceedings and do not have a solicitor or barrister. The films may also assist those who are represented but would like see how a typical hearing might proceed. The videos are available on YouTube but can be viewed below.

Discussions before court hearing:

The court hearing:

DFJ News News

New Designated Family Judge for Bristol

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Her Honour Judge Stephanie Cope was appointed as the Designated Family Judge for Bristol, effective 11 March 2024, taking over from HHJ Stephen Wildblood KC, who retired in late 2023.

Her Honour Judge Cope was admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in 1995 and called to the Bar (Lincoln’s Inn) in 2008. She was appointed as a Deputy District Judge in 2007, a District Judge in 2012 and as a Circuit Judge in 2020. She was authorised to sit as a High Court Judge in the Family Division under section 9(1) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 in 2023.

As DFJ, Judge Cope is the senior Circuit Judge responsible for family court work in Bristol and her remit covers the family courts in Bristol, Bath, Weston and Gloucester. She will be based at the court in Bristol.

For information, as a result of building works at the court in Taunton, many ‘Taunton’ hearings are currently taking place in Weston or Yeovil. The Designated Family Judge for Taunton is HHJ Kathryn Skellorn KC.

You can read more about the structure of the Family Court here.

DFJ News News

“It’s your Family Court” – Debate to discuss the workings of the Family Court

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His Honour Judge Stephen Wildblood QC, Designated Family Judge for Bristol, Gloucestershire and North Somerset invites you to attend this debate to discuss the workings of the Family Court.

Members of the Public and Professional Court users are invited to join an on-line debate to discuss the workings of the Family Court which will take place on Wednesday 17 November 2021 from 4.30pm to 6.30pm via Microsoft Team.

The Panel:

The debate will be hosted by the Designated Family Judge- His Honour Judge Stephen Wildblood QC with contributions from Guest Speakers:

  • Claire Molyneux – Family Mediator, of Mills and Reeve, solicitors.
  • Jeremy Thompson– Bristol Manager of Support Through Court.
  • Amanda Crutchley– University of Law and LIP scheme co-ordinator.
  • Jerry Fowler – Family Delivery Manager- Bristol Civil and Family Justice Centre.
  • Emma Whewell, solicitor, mediator and Senior lecturer in law – UWE.

The topics

The debate will focus on some specific topics to be confirmed but will include:

  • The public’s view on the use of mediation in the Family courts as opposed to attending court. How can we increase the use of mediation and arbitration as a means of resolving disagreements in relation to children, finances and other issues?
  • How do you feel about hearings being carried out remotely (e.g. by Microsoft Teams) rather than by everyone attending a courtroom?
  • How can we improve the support that is available to litigants in person in dealing with the Family Court?
  • How can we reduce the number of cases that are coming into the Family Court? Terms of reference for this debate- please read

The Family Court wishes to hear the view of the General Public and its perception on how the Family Court operates in this area and how we might serve the local population better. So, all comments will be welcomed.

However, the debate cannot consider any issues relating to specific cases that have been or are currently in the Family Court system; not only would it be unfair for such issues to be discussed, it would also be illegal.

We regret to say that if anyone begins to raise issues relating to a specific case, the chair of the debate (HHJ Wildblood QC) will have to intervene.

Further, Judges cannot be asked to comment on political matters or whether the current law should be changed.

Joining instructions:

Click here to join the meeting via Microsoft Teams or by telephone by dialing 020 3443 8791 then enter Phone Conference ID: 436 171 273#

In order to gauge interest in this event, please can you confirm your attendance to the Family Delivery Manager – Jerry Fowler by telephone to 0117 3664880 or by e-mail to

Dowload Flyer here.

DFJ News

 Public law and private law listing arrangements

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Guidance from the Designated Family Judge for this area

[Editor’s note : this site is local not national. Other guidance applies nationally and in other areas. See this post from The Transparency Project for a summary of applicable guidance].


1 For the purposes of this document:

i) The contents of this document are referred to as ‘guidance’ and only apply to the Designated Family Judge area of Bristol, North Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Gloucestershire.

ii) This guidance is subject to any national or other guidance issued by higher authority.

iii) ‘Remote’ and ‘remotely’ are to be construed as meaning by Skype for Business, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, telephone (including mobile) or such other means as the judge shall direct.

iv) ‘Judge’ includes magistrates.

v) For the purposes of giving directions as to how a hearing may be conducted remotely, judge also includes a legal adviser nominated for this purpose by the Designated Family Judge.

vi) ‘Judge of trial’ means the judge before whom a substantive hearing or directions appointment is listed.

2 By way of principle:

i) All remote hearings must take place in a way that is consistent with the requirements of governing statutes, statutory instruments (such as The Family Procedure Rules 2010), Practice Directions, Presidential or other Guidance and other requirements of the law.

ii) All parties must commit themselves to maintaining the confidentiality of Family Court hearings in accordance with the above.

iii) It is essential that legal representatives keep the court informed when they are acting for a party to Family court litigation and ensure that all necessary contact details are given and maintained.

iv) Separate guidance has been given in relation to Financial Remedy proceedings.This guidance therefore does not apply to such proceedings.

3 In accordance with the latest Guidance from the President of the Family Division and at the present time, all hearings in the Family court in this area must be conducted remotely unless otherwise ordered by a full-time Circuit Judge or High Court Judge.

4 In relation to emergency, very urgent or ex parte hearings:

i) In public law cases the local authority, in discussion with the court, must make arrangements as to how the hearing is to be conducted..It must do so at the time of issue of the relevant application.

ii) In private law proceedings, the Applicant must make those arrangements, in consultation with the court (and must do so at the time of issue of the application).

5 In relation to public law cases (save as in paragraph 4 above):

i) There must be an advocates’ meeting at least 72 hours before any listed hearing. The meeting must be conducted remotely. Every public law case is deemed to include an order that such meetings must take place and such meetings shall be considered a proper disbursement on the legal aid certificates of legally sided parties. If necessary the court will issue orders to that effect in each case.

ii) At the advocates meeting, the advocates must decide, amongst other things, upon how the hearing will be conducted remotely.

iii) At least 48 hours before the hearing, there must be a telephone directions hearing before the judge of trial. At that directions hearing, amongst other things, the judge will give directions as to how the hearing must be conducted remotely.

iv) It is for the local authority to organise the remote hearings and to ensure that the means devised are:

a) Secure and b) recorded

6 In relation to private law cases:

i) Where the Applicant is legally represented, the Applicant’s solicitor, in consultation with the Respondent, must take responsibility for arranging for the hearing to be conducted remotely.

ii) Where the Applicant is not legally represented and the Respondent is, the Respondent’s legal representative must take responsibility for those arrangements.

iii) Where neither party is represented, the court office must liaise with the judge of trial at least 72 working hours before the hearing and the judge must give directions for how the hearing is to be conducted. In default of specific direction from the judge the court must arrange for such hearings to be conducted by telephone.

iv) There must be a directions hearing before the judge of trial at least 48 hours prior to the substantive hearing at which, among other things, directions will be given as to the arrangements for the hearing.


HHJ Stephen Wildblood, DFJ.

23rd March 2020

DFJ News News

Change of event details

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It has proved necessary to alter the arrangements for the theatre event on 11 January and the conference on 1 February 2018.

The theatre event at St Brendan’s College will now not take place on 11th January 2018. It has been necessary to put it back to 6.30 p.m. on 1st February. It will still take place at St Brendan’s College and tickets that have been bought for the 11th January are valid for that date. There is free parking there. The play, which shows a family that becomes involved in care proceedings, will end by 8.00 p.m. There will be pauses in the play when the audience can ask the actors (including me – I play the judge) questions about the roles that they are playing.

The conference on 1st February 2018 will now start at 4.00 p.m. and will finish by 5.15 p.m. (in order that those who wish to do so can attend the theatre event at St Brendan’s).

DFJ News News

Newsletter from HHJ Wildblood QC – Dec 17

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1. The main reason for sending out this newsletter is to wish everyone a very happy Christmas and New Year. This has been a very hard year for many people, both professionally and personally. But January brings about the beginning of a new year which, hopefully, will be flood-free at very least. Thank you very much for bearing with the difficulties that we have had in Bristol and for pulling together, as everyone did. For me the flood had two particular benefits. I gained a new nickname – Scuba Steve and also was forced to buy an expensive new suit – £45 from Primark with a £2 tie to go with it.

2. An indication of how hard everyone worked through the dark ages of the floods must be that our timeliness actually improved during that period. I am sure that those whose Christmas cheer lies in statistics will revel in ecstasy, knowing that public law cases took an average of 23.8 weeks here during the third quarter of the year.

3. Events – We have some fairly chunky events lined up for the New Year and I would be grateful for any support that you can give to them. They are all advertised on the family court info website. On 11th January 2018 there is an interactive theatre production at St Brendan’s College theatre, Bristol of a typical family scene leading to care proceedings in which the audience gets to discuss things directly with the actors (who stay in role); you can book to it on ticket source . On 1st February 2018 there is a conference details of which are at ; the idea of the conference is to listen to your views about what we could do better as a family court. The public and the press are invited to both events, of course.

4. Re S-F – I have been asked to include in this newsletter the following message from local authorities following the case of Re S-F: ‘The recent case of S-F (A Child) 2017 EWCA Civ 964 (12 July 2017) highlights the need for a local authority to file the Child Permanence Report (a CPR or Annex B) and the Agency Decision Makers record of decision with any application for a placement order. In his judgment Ryder J describes these as disclosable documents susceptible to cross examination. Following this the local authorities in the area are getting increasing demands for these documents to be served on the parents with the LA final evidence. However, according to the Family Practice Rules the report is a confidential document and can only be disclosed to the parties with a direction of the court (FPR Rule 14.13). Given this we need practitioners and the courts to make sure that, at any CMH/FCMH, where an application for a placement order appears likely and directions are given anticipating such an application, the court should also be asked to consider making a direction for the disclosure of the CPR/Annex B report (and the ADM minute) to the parties.’

5. Bundles – I always vowed that, if I ever became a judge, I would not start a case with what some call bundle rage. It is always unnerving for everyone when a case starts on that sort of note and, for parents who face the possible loss of their children, it must appear as though people are focussing on the wrong thing. However, I broke my vow this week and issued a judgment (X Council v A, B and C) which has been circulated. It makes no sense at all to land a bundle of over 1,000 pages on a court at 4.30 p.m. on the last working day before a final hearing for all the reasons that I give in the judgment. PD 27A is there for a reason and simply must be complied with. If you haven’t seen the judgment please get hold of a copy and read it. Every judge and magistrate I speak to tells stories of ridiculous bundles being handed in late. This really does have to stop.

6. I have been asked by Local Authorities to remind all practitioners that there has to be co-operation in agreeing what should go into a bundle. I agree that is so but it does not detract in any way from the responsibility on the Applicant, usually the Local Authority, to produce the bundle (see para 3.1 of the Practice Direction). Further it has been suggested that the court also shares a responsibility for the contents of the bundle; that is incorrect and is not what the Practice Direction says. If the court gives a specific direction about the contents of the bundle the direction must be complied with. However, the court cannot engage in discussions about the bundle’s contents outside a court hearing and should not be expected to. How can the court be expected, as a matter of generality, to direct what should or should not go into a bundle when it has not read the documents?

7. Disclosure Protocol – For the reasons that I gave in the X Council v A, B and C judgment, I am very opposed to local protocols. However, I have been asked to approve a local protocol for disclosure of Local Authority documents in private law proceedings. I have done so but do wish to stress that the protocol is over-ridden by any specific orders that are made in specific proceedings. Orders take priority over local protocols.

8. I wish you a very Happy Christmas. There is a song on Youtube about 2016 that some of you might know. 2017 has had its moments too. 2018 feels as though it’s going to be a better year.
Stephen Wildblood
21st December 2017.

DFJ News

Newsletter from HHJ Wildblood QC

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His Honour Judge Wildblood QC

Designated Family Judge for Avon, North Somerset and Gloucestershire

1. Gloucestershire CC – Many of you will have read that Ofsted has published a report about Gloucestershire County Council’s Children’s Services. If you haven’t, please can I suggest that you read the executive summary, at least. It can be found by following this link and then scrolling down to the link for the pdf version of the report (The file is called Single inspection of LA children’s services and review of the LSCB as pdf).

2. As you will know, I have published a number of judgments on the Bailii website to ensure that the public were aware of difficulties that are similar to those highlighted in the Ofsted report. I also met regularly with the previous management team to explain and discuss the issues arising from those judgments and other issues of practice. I very much hope that solutions can now be found to the difficulties that have been identified and I am grateful to the new management team for meeting with me on Wednesday to discuss how matters will be dealt with in the future. At the start of this year it was arranged that I should sit for one week in every month in Gloucester and, since early last year, District Judge Woodburn has been hearing public law cases there as well. I hope that the increased presence in Gloucester of judges specialising in public law cases will emphasise further the need for change and encourage it. I have asked that any public law cases that involve significant issues of practice should be listed in front of me; please can practitioners and courts in the area ensure that this occurs.

3. Orders – Getting orders drafted and issued imposes heavy demands on all those involved and the first thing that I would want to say is thank you to everyone for running the system so smoothly in this area.

4. It remains the rule that orders should be submitted to the court for issue within 48 hours of the hearing at which the order is made. This is demanding for solicitors and barristers but the demands would not be any different if we imposed any other timescale (e.g. it would not make any difference if we said 72 or 96 hours). On the whole, orders are sent in within 48 hours but please can I ask you to ensure that you do send them in within that time.

5. If the order includes provision for disclosure by the police or other third parties, please can I ask that a separate order is drafted for that disclosure. The order for disclosure needs to be issued as swiftly as possible following the hearing. If a short disclosure order is drafted and issued on the day of the hearing it means that the police, or other third party, are more likely to be able to provide the necessary disclosure within the time provided by the order. There have been a number of cases in which there has been a delay in drafting the long case management order and, as a result, the disclosure provisions within the long order have not been sent to the police until shortly before, or even after, the dates specified for disclosure. If a separate short order is drafted and sent out immediately that difficulty can be avoided. Where a disclosure order is made please can an email be sent immediately to the police, or other relevant third party, informing them that the disclosure order has been made so that they can begin to collate the material.

6. In a suitable case the judge or magistrates may wish to direct, at the end of a case management hearing, that the order may be submitted to the court office for issue without further scrutiny by the court of the drafting of the order. Plainly, there will be some draft orders which have to be scrutinised by the court before they are approved for issue. However there are some instances where straightforward orders are delayed in issue unnecessarily because they await approval following the drafting by the parties. Where the court does so direct, it will be essential that any email sending in the order should state clearly: ‘the court directed that this order should be issued immediately upon being emailed to the court, without being further referred for approval to the judge/magistrates’. Such a direction will be particularly inappropriate where there are penal provisions within the order.

7. Non-molestation orders need to be issued immediately following their making. It is very important that orders made in Bath or Weston-super-Mare, which are to be sent to Bristol for issue, are sent immediately to Bristol following the hearing. Where a tick box form is used by the judge / magistrates that document needs to be scanned and sent by email by the court staff immediately to the Bristol court office for issue. There has to be liaison between the courts involved to ensure that there is no delay in the issue of orders of this kind. Particular difficulties can arise where orders are made on Friday because it is essential that the orders are issued, sent to the police and sent for service before the weekend. If there are difficulties in relation to this, there must be communication with court immediately.

8. If there are urgent private law orders to be issued, emails containing any draft orders must be marked urgent when they are sent in to Bristol. Orders are issued and drawn up in Bristol, even when made in Weston-super-Mare or Bath (this does not apply to Gloucester, of course). Once issued, the order can only be sent to the applicant/the applicant’s solicitor on paper by post or DX, the order cannot be emailed to the applicant/applicant’s solicitor for issue. In circumstances where the applicant needs a copy of the sealed order immediately (e.g. where there is a prohibited steps order following the retention of a child or threatened removal) the sealed order can be scanned by Bristol and sent to Weston-super-Mare or Bath where it can be printed there. However, the applicant/applicant’s solicitor must arrange to collect the order and must liaise with the court to ensure that an agreed system is in place for that to occur. Otherwise, the only other way in which the applicant/applicant’s solicitor will receive a copy of the order is through the post/DX.

9. It is particularly helpful to the court staff if typed orders can be submitted (i.e. not in manuscript) and can also be produced on the right forms (e.g. on CAP forms).

10. Out of hours hearings – Please can I ask that everyone is familiar with the system for hearings that need to take place outside normal court hours. It is too late to try to find out once emergency has arisen. If you don’t know the system please ask the court office to provide you with information about it.

11. Urgent hearings in normal court hours – if a local authority or other court user knows that an urgent application will be made please inform the court as soon as this is known. In particular, if a Local Authority knows on a Thursday that an EPO application is likely to be made on Friday, please can the authority let the court know on Thursday and not leave it until Friday before setting in hand arrangements and applications for a hearing. It is unfair on court staff and judges where applications are brought to the court in a rush on Friday afternoon without warning (e.g. because police protection powers under section 46 of The Children Act 1989 are due to expire over the weekend). If you do apply late and without forewarning you may well find that your case has to be dealt with under the out of hours procedures.

12. Judges seeing children – we do seem to make little use of the procedure that is available for judges to see children (see page 1530 of the 2017 Red Book for a summary of the guidance about this). When dealing with cases involving children please can I ask you to think carefully about whether it would be beneficial for the child to meet the judge. After all, which of us would like a major decision to be made about our lives by someone upon whom we had never clapped eyes?

13. Theatre – I have been working with St Brendans College in Bristol and we have set up a theatre production group to stage scenes showing some of the social issues with which the family court deals. The first production will be on 6 July 2017 at St Brendans College (doors open at 4 PM and the production will last from about 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM). This will be interactive, or forum, theatre in which the actors will play out scenes on stage and then, with the aid of a facilitator, the actors will discuss with the audience what is happening, ask questions of the audience and take questions from them. The first production will cover domestic violence, the removal of a child from a mother in public law proceedings, a comedy sketch about dysfunctional families and a scene involving a father in prison grappling with indirect contact. If you would like to book into this event please do so by accessing the website: and entering ‘The State v The Family : Drawing the line’ in the box marked ‘Search events’. Tickets are free and I do hope that you will be able to support this event.

14. As ever, thank you to everyone for working so hard to keep our very hard pressed system running as efficiently as it does.

16th June 2017.
Download word version of this document.

DFJ News News


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His Honour Judge Wildblood QC (Designated Family Judge for this area) will chair a debate about non consensual adoption on :

April 27th at the Bristol Civil & Family Justice Centre from 4.30- 6.30pm

Four barristers will present the arguments both for and against, followed by brief presentations from a diverse panel of experts. The debate will then open to the floor and at the conclusion all will vote.

Speaking for non-consensual adoption : Kathryn Skellorn QC and Zahid Hussain

Speaking against non-consensual adoption : Frances Judd QC and Lucy Reed

The barristers have agreed to assist in the presentation of the arguments for and against non-consensual adoption as a springboard for discussion, and the arguments they present do not necessarily represent their personal views. The barristers were allocated roles in the debate having agreed to participate.

This event is open to all and is free of charge but places are limited and you will need to book your place in advance here, via the UWE website.

We expect demand for this event to be high. In the event that you cannot make it PLEASE email Emma Whewell at UWE ( so your place can be reallocated.

Please read the GROUND RULES for this event – they are what makes it possible for the organisers to run events of this sort and all participants are expected to stick to them.