Remote Hearings in the Family Court
- AuthorJennifer Allen
It is somewhat of an understatement to say that Covid-19 and the lockdown imposed by the Government on 24th March 2020 has impacted all aspects of our lives over the last few months. Separated parents and their families have been one of the groups most acutely affected by the pandemic. There has been an inevitable knock-on effect on arrangements for children to spend time with their parents, sometimes in families where those arrangements were already finely balanced.
For those families that are unable to reach agreement between themselves or in mediation, the Family Court provides a forum to explore the issues in dispute and reach a resolution within the court’s timetable, or for the court to impose arrangements if an agreement cannot be reached. In the current climate, it remains as important as ever for the Family Court to be able to deal with cases fairly and avoid delay in the interests of the children.
At the start of lockdown, the family justice system had to adapt quickly to the changing landscape and embrace technology as a result to ensure remote hearings could take place. It was simply not the case that hearings should be adjourned indefinitely because physical attendance at court was not possible as this delay could be detrimental to children.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, has recently published his view of the road ahead for the Family Court over the next six months and into 2021. As lockdown restrictions are eased, court buildings will start to reopen although social distancing restrictions will mean that capacity is limited. Remote hearings will need to continue for the foreseeable future whilst the number of cases the Family Court is dealing with is high and there is limited ability for courts to conduct face-to-face hearings. However, the Family Court will be moving towards some hearings either fully attended by all parties or a ‘hybrid’ hearing, where some of the parties attend court and the remainder engage remotely.
The Transparency Project, a registered charity working within the family justice system in England and Wales, has produced a guidance note to assist parties in understanding remote court hearings in the Family Court, which can be found here http://www.transparencyproject.org.uk/remote-court-hearings-guidance-note/ .
If you would like to discuss ongoing proceedings within the Family Court, or are considering making an application to court, please feel free to contact a member of our Family Law Department on 01242 574244 and we will be happy to meet you and discuss your situation.