The Family justice system has been heavily affected by COVID-19 pandemic, putting pressure on a system, that was already overstressed.
After temporary court closures in spring 2020, in court hearings were replaced with remote ones held by telephone or video calls. The majority of hearings were adjourned unless they were regarded as urgent. Delays happened because courts prioritised public law matters and urgent private law issues, such as abduction, safeguarding issues and domestic violence.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, most contested Fact Finding and Final Hearings were adjourned. Now some of these hearings take place face to face, where minimal oral evidence is required, assuming that social distancing restrictions remain in place.
The Family Court will now be moving from working almost totally via remote hearings to situations where at least some will be fully attended by the parties or “hybrid” where some of the parties attend the hearing remotely. As the current situation is changing rapidly the question of whether any particular case is heard remotely is determined on a case-by-case basis.
To prepare for a remote hearing, first you need to check with your local court about what exactly is happening with your hearing, as different courts operate differently across the country. Even the courts that are open, operate on a scaled down service due to lack of staff. If your hearing is going ahead, you need to provide the court with your preferred telephone number and/or email address to be able to join the hearing.
Any court bundles have to be delivered electronically prior to the hearing. Make sure you have all necessary documents in hand, to refer to during the hearing.
Check that your telephone/tablet/laptop is fully charged and you are located in an area with good signal/internet speed. It might be helpful to use headphones to reduce the background noise and not be overhead by others. Please try to be in a private quiet area to avoid disruptions, with a plain wall as the background/or blur the background if the software allows.
Do not record the hearing, this is against the law.
Prior to the hearing, ensure that you are able to communicate with your legal representative, maybe via email, WhatsApp or video chat. Consider the use of 2 devices.
Like in the court room, once the hearing commences you will not be able to leave it, therefore have all items you might need to hand – paper, pen, drink, etc.
Court service has announced a telephone line for technical support for remote hearings, which is 03308089405. Please note this line is only dedicated to help with technical issues, case matters will not be discussed. Should you need any assistance to help prepare you for your remote hearing, please contact your mentor through Dads Unlimited.