Preparation for Contested Hearings

Posted on Monday, 31st Aug, 2015 at 11:44:30 PM
If you find yourself in a disagreement which goes before the court, you may need to attend a contested hearing.

What happens at a contested hearing?

During the hearing, each party gets the chance to argue their position and present their case in front of a judge. The judge will then make a decision at that hearing or shortly afterwards and will then issue a court order. This court order is binding on both parties, unless one party makes an appeal to a higher court.

An example of a contested hearing is where one parent contests an interim contact order, regulating contact between the other parent and child.

Directions hearing

Before the contested hearing, there will usually be a directions hearing where the judge will direct a number of points such as the timetable for when documents must be served, what documents should be served, the timetable for hearings etc. The court may also serve notices in writing to all parties as to when documents must be served and dates for any hearings.
If you are a party to a contested hearing you must adhere to the timetable set out by the court. Missing deadlines can have serious consequences and can even go against you. If there is a genuine reason why you will fail to make a date, such as, because you have been in hospital, or you are waiting for a report which is highly relevant to your case, then you must contact the court and ask permission for an extension from the judge.
You should ask the judge to direct, during the directions hearing, that the court bundle be agreed between the parties and the timescales for doing so. If you cannot agree the court bundle with the other side or their representatives then you should submit your own, providing the reasons for why you are doing so.
You should also think about whom you would like to attend the hearing and who you would like to cross-examine. If a CAFCASS officer or other caseworker was involved in your case and you would like to question them, you should ask the judge for their attendance. Similarly, if a person has entered statements in support of either yourself or your ex, then you may want to question them.

One of the things that a judge normally directs to be submitted during the directions hearing is a court bundle.

What should be included in a court bundle?
The bundle should contain all of the evidence that you wish to rely on in the contested hearing. It can contain the following documents, though these are not mandatory unless the court directs so:
An index, so that the bundle can be easily followed
A chronology. This is a timeline of key dates and leading events, so that the judge understands the background of the events leading up to the hearing
A statement of the issues. This is literally a list of the main issues in the case
A position statement. This is exactly what it says - a brief statement which sets out your position
A summary.
It is important that you check the court bundle is accurate before submission. If there are inaccuracies, it may look as though you cannot tell the story straight. It is also important for you to check whether your ex, or the other side, has submitted any new evidence.
Again, if you are responsible for preparing and submitting the bundle, you must ensure that it is served by the correct date.


You will need to prepare a number of submissions in advance of the hearing. These are skeleton arguments, opening and closing submissions, examination-in-chief and cross-examination.
A skeleton argument is a document that should briefly set out the agreed matters, the nature of the disagreed matters and your main arguments. It need not be more than 6 or 7 pages. Arguments should be brief and concise, with reference to any evidence and case law to back up your point. Remember that this is just to give the judge an idea of your arguments, as you will be presenting the case in full at the hearing.

A skeleton argument is usually submitted to the judge a few days before the contested hearing. When you get there on the day, check that the judge has received a copy.
Opening and closing submissions open and close your case. Opening submissions should contain a brief summary of the facts and arguments. The closing submissions should sum up your arguments. It is advisable to prepare both of these in advance of the hearing. The closing submission may change, depending on what has come out during the hearing from both sides. It is important that submissions be persuasive.

Examination-in-chief is where you get to present your case to the judge. In the hearing, go through each point followed by the evidence or supporting law relied upon. When you have a copy of the court bundle, you may find it helpful to note the page numbers of the bundle which are useful and/or which you would like to rely on. That way, you can easily refer the judge.

Cross-examination is where you get to question the other side, your ex, CAFCASS Officers, support workers or other parties who have made a statement, should you feel the need to question some of them. Keep questions short and only ask one question at a time. Only include relevant questions that support your case.

If you have never been in court before, or even if you have, it is perfectly normal to be nervous. If you think you will forget something read your submissions and/or questions directly from paper. Write down your main points beforehand and even take someone along for moral support.
Take your time. Speak loudly, clearly and slowly and finally, remember those important dates.

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