Way back at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March, we all thought that we would be working from home for a few weeks, answering a few emails and calls before it would be business as usual back in the office. That turned out not to be the case and the fast-paced, busy world of Family Law with its daily emergencies does not stop or slow down for a health pandemic. Solicitors are often known as sticklers for the rules, traditions and for being slow to change … but faced with these circumstances the entire profession has acted swiftly to keep cases moving and keep children safe throughout Norfolk. Even us technophobic dinosaurs with handheld dictation and handwritten attendance notes were forced to adapt to new ways of working to ensure access to justice for all.
The Family Court have been very keen to ensure that there has been no unreasonable delay to decisions being made in respect of children and have embraced the modern technology at our disposable with telephone and video conference hearings. These remote hearings have largely worked well for smaller hearings to progress cases but it is clear that they can not be a full substitute for a contested hearing whereby evidence is tested through cross-examination of witnesses in Court. When a judge has to make a decision after hearing evidence, they will need to assess the witnesses demeanor and body language to decide how much they can rely on what is being said. This makes for a very difficult task in normal circumstances, let alone trying to do this over video conference!
With social distancing rules now becoming clearer and the new normal, the Family Courts have developed hybrid hearings for when evidence needs to be given. In practice, this means that the Judge, court usher, witness and their legal representative are physically present in court whilst other representatives are at home participating through a video link. Simple. As long as the technology plays ball and as long as everyone has enough patience to put up with multiple technology glitches! We are very lucky in Norfolk to have the benefit of large court rooms which has certainly helped allow social distancing given the number of people needing to be in court at any one time.
It is far from ideal and certainly a few months ago completely unfathomable that the courts would be working in this way. However, it is certainly possible. In the “new normal” the Family Court has no choice but to adapt and look for solutions to continue to provide justice for children.
The Hatch Brenner Child Law Solicitors all currently working and available to represent parents who have disputes with Children’s Services. If you have been contacted by a social worker for your child and are not sure what to do next, please get in touch with us and we can help you. Call 01603 660 811 or email firstname.lastname@example.org