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Comment and Analysis Masthead

Back to the Future: e-bundles

Child removal iStock 000007583512XSmall 146x219It is time to embrace the move towards e-bundles in family proceedings, writes Matthew Maynard.

In the 1989 Hollywood classic “Back to the Future: Part II”, Marty and Doc travel far into the future to discover the horrors that await. In the last few years, by far the most depressing aspect of that film was that the “future” was actually 2015; the most depressing at least until you realise that there is a populist, neo-political element to Biff Tannen that now strikes a little bit too close for comfort. He also has very questionable hair and narcissistic personality traits which would justify FPR Part 25 assessment. I am sure this is pure coincidence.

Another horrifying element of the future, post-2015, is that e-bundles have well and truly landed for us all. There is probably no point in moaning about it. They are here to stay, and we all need to adapt.

The fact that there appears to be so much resistance in the family jurisdiction is both surprising and not, in equal measures. On the one hand, lawyers are not known as a profession that embraces change, so some reticence is to be expected. On the other, our colleagues in the criminal courts have been “paperless” for a number of years now, and (some teething problems aside) reports are positive:

(a) documents can be shared in an instant, without any need for photocopying; and

(b) exhibits can be wirelessly transferred to large exhibit screens on the wall of the court, for witnesses and the jury to look at.

Surely, if they are able to adapt, then, so are we?

The reality is that as more local authorities embrace e-bundling software systems, such as Iken, the prevalence of e-bundles will increase. It is folly to think that a local authority should put together a fully hyperlinked bundle only for it to be printed off.

Pros and cons

In the finest traditions of family law (well, since 2013 anyway), I will now undertake a balancing exercise of all the positives and negatives of using e-bundles.

The negatives are plain: it will require a wholesale change in the way in which we all practice. Paper bundles have been in place for decades. But then at one time, back-sheets made of vellum, and quills were considered essential equipment. Progress, albeit sometimes slow, is an inevitable part of the job that we all do.

However, the potential benefits are also significant:

(a) the ability to be more productive;

(b) to carry around the equivalent of 50 lever arch files on a small corner of your computer;

(c) to navigate huge bundles in seconds; and

(d) the cost savings cannot be ignored – one local authority is said to have saved tens of thousands of pounds in the first year of using e-bundling, due to less printing and staffing costs.

Conclusions

In order for the benefits to be truly apparent, it will require more than just the profession to be on board. We also need HMCTS and the judiciary to be fully invested in the process. It would be typical if all the time saving benefits of e-bundling were available for the advocates and the judge, only for the witness to be struggling to open paper bundle 16 of 27, which (incidentally) has a broken lever arch.

One thing is clear: I think e-bundles are here to stay. It is probably not the best time to invest in a wheelie-case manufacturing company.

Matthew Maynard is a barrister at St Ives Chambers. He can be contacted on 0121 236 0863 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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