The courts have not closed, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, many hearings have been taking place by remote means such as the telephone or video call platforms such as Skype.
There has been a recent survey published by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) in relation to the effectiveness of remote hearings used in the family justice system since the COVID-19 crisis began. The survey reports that parents are expressing concerns about not being able to properly participate in hearings, particularly when the courts are dealing with such significant matters as the removal of their children.
The courts recognise that remote hearings do not work for everyone. As highlighted in the NFJO consultation report, many parents find it difficult to follow what is happening which may be due to a lack of communication between lay parties and their legal representation before hearings, the technology breaking down or because they are at home, potentially alone and are not being supported. These difficulties are heightened where the parents have a disability or require an interpreter.
The survey also found that professionals also had concerns about whether proceedings are perceived as fair by parties in all cases, and the difficulties of being sufficiently empathetic and supportive to their clients through a remote hearing.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, the most senior Judge in the Family court, highlights areas of concern that need to be addressed including more support to enable parents and young people to take part in remote hearings effectively. Parents must fully understand and feel part of the remote court process. Sir McFarlane does believe the situation has been improving recently, and that for the most important hearings, to ensure fairness, parents are now able to appear before a judge. These are known as 'hybrid hearings', where only a handful of people are in court to ensure social distancing, usually parents and their legal representatives, and the other parties join by phone or video link.
Following the Observatory report work will continue with the judiciary to find solutions.
Fiona Beesley is a Child Law Solicitor at Hatch Brenner Solicitors based in Norwich. She comments: “At Hatch Brenner we remain committed to our clients and to ensuring during this unprecedentedly difficult time we are here to support you and to ensure that you are able to properly engage in the court process.”
Speak to our team of Child Law Solicitors via 01603 660 811, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the full NFJO remote hearings report at: https://www.nuffieldfjo.org.uk...