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Remote Hearings in the Family Courts – the Process, Effectiveness and Future…

29/04/2021

Author: Bengi Karakus

Child Law, Disputes, Family, Hatch Brenner News

Remote Court Hearing

Remote Court Hearings to accommodate social distancing

What is a remote hearing?

The impact of the coronavirus outbreak with the introduction of social distancing measures has paved the way for court hearings, which would otherwise have been conducted in a courtroom, to take place remotely.

The courts have had to adapt to these measures and many Family Court hearings are now held remotely using phone or video links with platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Skype and Cloud Video Platform (CVP).

To access detailed guides about how each platform operates, see the below links:

CVP - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-join-a-cloud-video-platform-cvp-hearing/how-to-join-cloud-video-platform-cvp-for-a-video-hearing

Skype - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-download-skype-for-business-to-join-a-court-hearing/download-skype-to-join-a-court-hearing

Process

A court hearing conducted remotely will likely to be arranged by the court or the applicant’s lawyers. Each party to the hearing will need to provide an email address or phone number which they will use to connect to the hearing as a communication channel.

Although many hearings are conducted remotely, usual court etiquette applies meaning that you should be somewhere quiet and private, you should not talk over others by turning off your microphone and camera when not speaking.

Efficiency and Convenience

Remote hearings can promote efficiency and allow hearings to proceed rather than be subject to delays from the pandemic and require to be held in a traditional court setting. The use of technology to conduct hearings has enabled the family courts to function during the pandemic.

Remote hearings have also avoided the travel to and from court and the costs associated with this.

Barriers with remote hearings

There can be various barriers to remote hearings which may hinder the testing of evidence. Reading the body language of a witness giving evidence remotely may be impeded and as such, cross-examination of a witness in a traditional court setting may be preferred.

It can also be difficult to ensure and maintain each party’s full engagement and participation for hearings that are conducted remotely. A party may require an intermediary, such as an interpreter, or a third-party assistant due to cognitive or hearing impairments, which can make remote hearings difficult to conduct.

As with many situations where technology is relied upon, there can be issues of confidentiality and privacy where hearings are conducted remotely. It is important for the clear law and guidance given at the start of the hearing to be enforced and maintained throughout the entire hearing such as ensuring you are not to be distracted by a non-party to the hearing and that you are in a quiet setting.

Future for remote hearings – post-lockdown

The future for remote hearings as restrictions begin to ease is expected to be a combination of certain hearings continuing to be conducted remotely, particularly where they are Case Management Hearings, and other hearings reverting to the courtroom, as the case is likely to be with highly contested hearings.

A future of hybrid hearings where a limited number of representatives and parties attend court in person and other parties connect remotely is also becoming an increasingly common way for hearings to be conducted as restrictions begin to ease. Within the same case matter, procedural hearings may continue being conducted remotely with final hearings being heard in person. A post-Covid era comprising of a combination of remote and in-person hearings may well be the future as it will maximise the allocation of court resources and time and utilise technology.

Bengi Karakus is a Trainee Solicitor currently supporting the Hatch Brenner Family team, If you would like some advice, please email info@hatchbrenner.co.uk or call 01603 660 811.

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