Reports in some media and newspapers on Sunday 8 March 2020 indicate that HM Courts & Tribunals Service is moving ahead with coronavirus containment plans to have more Skype type video-conferencing court hearings, particularly and initially in criminal cases, to reduce the need for use of public transport and public gathering. The family law profession will follow developments closely as it can only be a short step to the same measures in the Family Court.
The use of Skype type video-conferencing hearings in the Family Court has had slow and not particularly efficient progress over the years. Some High Court judges were sceptical. Admittedly the initial technology was pretty hopeless. There was also some reticence borne out of the security of commercially available video-conferencing suites given the confidentiality of proceedings. Even now there are huge frustrations with the existing software and there is a way to go.
Nevertheless, many of us have been calling for video facilities to be used far more frequently in the family courts. It makes little sense to have lawyers and parties travelling huge distances for what may at times be a fairly short and relatively uncontentious hearing. We all live our lives and our relationships through video-conferencing communication, whether it be Skype, FaceTime or other facilities. Why must it stop at the door to the family court?
Tragic as the cause may be, the necessary preventive procedures which our country and other countries must put in place must cause us to review our overall working methods. If this thereby gives a boost to far greater use of video and other remote hearings and exploring the best technology and better ways of working, then whether for client meetings, conferences with counsel or other face to face scenarios, this will be very beneficial for the family justice system.
Family justice professionals will be following announcements over the next few days as it relates to court hearings. All prudent law firms and chambers will be renewing their preparation and plans for either a moderate outbreak or the worst-case scenario and everything in between. This will inevitably include review of resources and technology to ensure we can all continue to provide the best ongoing service for our clients, the courts and all others with whom we work in family justice.