We all know that, even during a pandemic, family life continues and thousands of people will still be in need of a resolution for family disputes, including divorce, child arrangements, financial claims and emergency injunction applications.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many family court hearings are taking place remotely. A few are being postponed (“adjourned”) due to the court’s lack of capacity, though less so than in the pandemic’s early days.
Whilst the majority of hearings are continuing to take place remotely, from June the courts gradually re-opened to enable some cases to be heard in person, with social distancing requirements being followed.
Generally, interim hearings, where no evidence is being given and no final decisions on the application are being taken, are likely to take place remotely. Final hearings, where the parties give evidence and the judge resolves the case, are more likely to be heard in person in court, but many will still take place remotely.
Some cases are proceeding as “hybrid” hearings, with some participants (often the parties) in the courtroom, and others (such as expert witnesses) taking part remotely.
If you have a hearing coming up, then a judge will consider the circumstances and decide what format it should take. We will discuss their decision with you, and if we consider that it would not be appropriate for your hearing to proceed as directed, we can ask the judge to reconsider the decision.
Remote hearings are taking place via a number of potential mediums, including by telephone conference call, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business, as well as the court service’s own online platform, called CVP. Much will depend on the preference of the judge and the technology available to the parties, their solicitors and their barristers. The appropriate technology will be determined ahead of time and all necessary arrangements put in place.
We will liaise closely with you in advance of a remote hearing as to the equipment you will need. In most cases this will be your own PC/Mac/iPad/smartphone, with a microphone and speaker. If you prefer, we may be able to arrange for you to come into our office, or to your barrister’s chambers, and participate in the remote hearing from the same room as your lawyers whilst complying with social distancing.
In some cases, with the court’s capacity having been restricted as a result of the pandemic, and a backlog having built up Family Court hearings are being adjourned, or parties are having to wait longer than usual for their case to be listed for a hearing. If this happens in your case, we will work with you to consider the best way forward. This may include considering a move into arbitration, where an experienced lawyer or retired judge would be appointed to decide your case.
We understand that these are strange and unprecedented times, and the Family Court service is being regularly reviewed to ensure that the family justice system continues to function as effectively as possible. All members of our Family Department are available to take you through what this new direction for the courts means for your case.