Update on Remote Hearings in the Family Courts: follow-up consultation report
With the news of a second national lockdown a matter of days away, it is important for all family law practitioners to reflect upon the measures that have been put in place to ensure the safety of all court users and also to ensure that the most urgent of children and family cases have been able to continue in the midst of this pandemic.
We have unfortunately seen far too much of the word ‘unprecedented’ in recent months and I make my own apologies for the continued use of that word here! However these have been unprecedented times and that has been acknowledged in each of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) reports, the most recent of which has just been published and is available here - https://www.nuffieldfjo.org.uk/app/nuffield/files-module/local/documents/remote_hearings_sept_2020.pdf
In response, the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew MacFarlane has said that:
“the report highlights a number of areas of concern that need to be addressed. There are clearly circumstances where more support is required to enable parents and young people to take part in remote hearings effectively. It is worrying that some parents report that they have not fully understood, or felt a part of, the remote court process. Whilst technology is improving, there is clearly still work to be done to improve the provision of Family Justice via remote means. I am very alert to the concerns raised in this report, and I will be working with the judiciary and the professions to develop solutions.”
Some of us who work within the family court arena have also seen a recent article online in which one parent reflected on the remote court process. The mother of 2 children was involved in private law proceedings at the conclusion of which the court ordered that her children should reside with their father. The mother reports that she was unable to speak to her barrister during the hearing which took place remotely and she believed that the outcome may have been different if she was able to appear in person in front of the judge (full article available here - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54700184).
This information from the NFJO report and the article above was published a matter of days before the prospect of a second national lockdown was on the horizon. Although the majority of cases have been taking place remotely, there has been a recent increase in the number of hearings which were due to be taking place in person. I would anticipate that, in line with the Lord Chief Justice’s comments that the remote way of working has significantly reduced footfall in the courts and will continue to be important in the coming weeks in order to reduce footfall in the courts throughout this second lockdown.
Undoubtedly the comments and observations from the NFJO report and elsewhere will be of concern to all those involved in the family courts. However, it appears that for now and certainly throughout this second lockdown we can continue to expect a significant proportion of cases to continue being dealt with remotely.
A Copy of the full report can be found here : https://www.nuffieldfjo.org.uk/resource/remote-hearings-september-2020