The media has shed negative light on the Family Court system, in particular how it has adapted to Covid-19 by introducing remote hearings. Some press releases have been critical of the arrangements, suggesting that remote hearings have disadvantaged individuals.
It is important that we can provide insight into our current experiences in the hope that it will offer some comfort and reassurance to those out there who are concerned or anxious about the way in which their case is being dealt with at present.
How your hearing should take place can be discussed with us in advance however our overall experience of remote hearings has been positive. Where evidence is required in a case, some feel that there is no replacement for the traditional courtroom, but others feel differently. There are pros and cons to both and how each case should be conducted will be considered on its merits. The demand for video calls has led to technology that allows the Judge or Magistrates to have a full view of each witness on camera meaning that the witness can be seen and heard clearly and the Judge remains in a position to carefully consider each party’s evidence. For administrative hearings in particular, remote hearings can be more efficient and therefore more cost effective for clients. A traditional court hearing would often involve several hours of waiting/travel time that would increase legal fees. Set times for remote hearings reduce, or in a lot of cases remove, waiting times altogether which ultimately reduces fees too. It is understood that, for certain stages of a case, remote hearings are here to stay so it is important to embrace the benefits.
A lot of the focus however has been on how remote hearings have left clients feeling. As solicitors, part of our role is client care. It is important that, as professionals, we take the time to listen to our clients and ensure that first and foremost they understand what will happen on the day. We then ensure that we put in place a suitable method of communication if the client feels that they would like to contact us during the hearing. This could be by email or WhatsApp messenger, for example. I personally have received positive feedback from clients who have found the process to be streamlined and, in many ways, less daunting than attending the formal Court building. I also have recent experience in dealing with injunctive proceedings and in cases where domestic abuse is a concern, remote telephone hearings can help clients feel more comfortable during the process knowing they won't be seen or be in the same building as their opponent.
If technology is not a strong point and a client feels anxious about connecting to the call or video then we do have rooms large enough to facilitate clients being present with their solicitor during the hearing whilst remaining socially distanced.
Despite the restrictions imposed on us by Covid-19, we are key workers and where absolutely necessary, measures can be put in place to ensure that a case progresses as it would have pre Covid-19, taking into account the circumstances of each particular case. This can be discussed with your lawyer in advance.
If you have a hearing listed and you feel that you may need some assistance, please do not hesitate to contact myself or another member of the family team.
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of articles only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.