COVID 19 and the Family Courts: Will my court hearing still go ahead?
Given the current UK lockdown:
- Will court hearings still go ahead as planned?
- Can I still get a court hearing if I have recently made an application or I am planning to make one?
Thankfully, in response to our Prime Minister’s announcement on 23 March 2020, Mr Justice MacDonald released detailed guidance.
The default position for the family court would be remote hearings, provided permission is given by the Court, using technology (agreed upon by the judge and parties at the outset) such as:
- BTMeetMe, Zoom, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Lifesize, FaceTime and Other Video Conferencing providers
Therefore, the message is clear: “keep business going safely”.
The courts will remain open to ensure that access to justice can continue with minimal disruption, but with safety at the forefront to minimise the spread of the virus. There however, remains concern about the security of using such platforms to conduct hearings, especially with the privacy requirements for family law cases. Also whether the judiciary and indeed the individual parties possess sufficiently modern and appropriate equipment to conduct remote hearings safely and effectively.
Who will set up the remote hearing?
- If both sides have instructed a solicitor, then it will be for the applicant solicitor to organise the hearing. Speak with your solicitor, if they haven’t already contacted you.
- If only one side has instructed a solicitor, then it is up to that solicitor to organise the hearing. Contact that solicitor to discuss further.
- Where both sides are representing themselves, the court will contact you directly to organise the hearing. Though if both sides have limited resources available and only a telephone hearing is possible, then you may find that your hearing is adjourned until such time as an alternative remote or hearing in person can take place.
- Only in the utmost exceptional circumstances, where a remote hearing is not possible, will a hearing take place in person observing of course the requirements of social distancing. It may be however that such hearings may need to be adjourned, where appropriate.
There will also be cases where the hearing will simply need to be adjourned due to the nature of the case and/or the length of the hearing and/or the number of parties, representatives and/or witnesses that make it undesirable to go ahead.
What types of hearings will this cover?
The aim is to replicate the “live” court process and the suitability of a remote hearing will be fact specific and up to the discretion of the judge having heard from both sides. This will cover the following:
- All directions and case management hearings and appeals.
How will it work in practice?
If you are attending a remote hearing, you should ensure the following:
- You are in a private and confidential location e.g. in a room by yourself
- You are free from distractions, interruptions and background noise, be aware of your background surroundings and the angle of the camera (if using one)
- You must also be available to attend at the allocated time
- You must have a good connection/signal
- You have you microphone muted when you are not speaking
- You are appropriately dressed
For the full guidance click the following link- NB the document is subject to regular changes and re-issuing: https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/The-Remote-Access-Family-Court-Version-2-Final-25.03.20.pdf
These adjustments will soon become the post COVID19 modern day era for the courts with plans already in place for the introduction by the Ministry of Justice of a centralised remote access system called the Cloud Video Platform (“CVP”). Watch this space!
*Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*