The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) has recently published a rapid consultation on the use of remote hearings in family law cases during the Covid 19 pandemic.
The NFJO was asked by the President of the Family Division to undertake an independent study to look at the views of everyone involved in remote hearings. They spoke to Judges, Lawyers, parents, social workers, Cafcass officers and Court staff to better understand how people were experiencing the remote setup. It also considered good practice ad practical ways to improve the process.
The feedback raised some interesting questions about the fairness of cases undertaken by either telephone or a digital platform such as Zoom, Skype for business and Microsoft teams. It is hard for the Judiciary and the other parties to understand each other’s body language on a telephone call but digital platforms present their own challenges with internet connections cutting out and some parents not having access to the right technology. There are also concerns about the privacy of the connections and who may be present in the room when hearings are taking place.
The general view seems to have been that certain types of cases where the parties are not being asked to give evidence are suitable for remote hearings. These are generally hearings that are mainly case management style hearings.
At the beginning of the pandemic new measures had to be implemented very quickly and there was a lack of uniformity of approach. Each court has developed their own systems for arranging remote hearings.
The President of the Family Division has made it clear that there is not a one size fits all for whether hearings should be held remotely, in person or adjourned until a later date.
It is likely that remote hearings will continue to take place even as Courts reopen whilst the ‘recovery’ phase starts. If you have questions about remote hearings in your family law case then please contact us on the details below.
This article was first published by Sarah Forster, Solicitor at IBB Law and is reproduced with permission.