Since lockdown restrictions came into force as a result of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the family courts in England and Wales have ensured social distancing by having fewer people in court and arranging for more hearings to be heard remotely.
A recent case highlights the devastating consequences that some individuals have faced as a result of remote hearings. A Mother has expressed her distress in that she was unable to communicate properly with her barrister during a remote telephone hearing in respect of child arrangements for her two sons. At the hearing, the Judge ordered that her children that had permanently resided with her prior to the hearing, were to live with her ex-partner. The Mother believed that, had she have been given the opportunity to appear before the judge in person, this would have improved communication and ultimately lead to a different outcome. At present, there is no formal judgment on this case.
Today, the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) published a follow-up consultation report in respect of these remote hearings. The report explores a recent survey which confirms that many parents participating in these remote hearings have expressed their concerns that they have found it difficult to follow what is happening during the hearings.
Sir Andrew MacFarlane, the President of the Family Division, commented:
“Encouragingly, most professionals, including judges, barristers, solicitors, Cafcass workers, court staff and social workers, felt that, overall, the courts were now working more effectively and that there were even some benefits for all to working remotely.”
However, the report also states that there are aspects of remote hearings which must be addressed and improved such as providing additional support to parents and young people if required, ensuring that they can participate effectively.
This is a trending topic and for further information, the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) follow-up consultation report can be viewed here and the full BBC article is available to view here.
Should you wish to discuss any of the issues raised further or have any questions of how this may affect you, please contact a member of our expert Family Team who would be more than happy to assist you.