The Family Courts have, in recent months, undergone massive changes as to how they deal with cases. The Covid-19 outbreak has forced Courts to operate almost exclusively remotely. The changes brought in from March 2020 caused both practitioners and clients a degree of reservation as many had not experienced remote hearings and the Court lost the intimacy of face to face hearings. Of course in certain cases, the Courts are still operating face to face hearings when it would be unjust to hold a hearing remotely, but such hearings are at the Court’s.
As a practitioner myself, I can certainly see the benefits of a remote hearing. The parties do not have the added stress of travelling to court or waiting in a busy court room for their case to be called. They can remain at home where they feel more at ease. For the majority of cases I have dealt with via telephone, the hearings have taken place on time and I have had ample opportunity to discuss matters beforehand with my clients and opponents. As the Courts become more accustomed to these types of hearings, they are giving consideration to incorporating video hearings wherever possible to try to bring an element of face to face hearings back into the court arena.
Many clients will be unaware as to how a remote hearing operates. To explain, clients are requested to provide their contact details to the Court in advance of the hearing. At the time of the hearing, or shortly thereafter, the client and any legal representatives will be telephoned by the Court to be joined in remotely. Recordings of the hearings are not permitted by the Court, and any participants must ensure they are in a room alone, where they cannot be disturbed. The Court legal advisor or a District Judge will then invite the parties to speak in turn as would happen at a face to face hearing.
The arrangements for remote hearings are to continue as the Courts report that the number of applications they receive have returned to pre Covid-19 rates. It is anticipated that review of the current arrangements regarding court hearings will not take place until Spring 2021. Even after this period, the Court may choose to utilise remote hearings more if they continue to operate well.
Clients should not feel scared about remote hearings as appropriate support is on hand to assist during this difficult time