Technology and the future of the Family Court System – Part 2

In our previous blog on this subject, we explored the impact of lockdown and technology on the future of the Family Courts and we reported that senior members of the judiciary have now commented that the use of remote hearings – Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams or hearings by telephone has been relatively successful.

This has meant that the Family Courts have remained operational whilst the court buildings themselves are closed.

However, not everyone has been enthusiastic or enamoured by the use of remote hearings. There have been some concerns raised where judges are asked to make significant decisions that might involve removal of children from their parent’s care, or even hearings where matters have been contested and evidence required where it has been suggested that virtual hearings were “not providing access to justice and do not constitute a humane approach.”

The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane asked the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (whose aim is to improve the evidence for decision making in the family justice system) to carry out a rapid review of how all court users were experiencing family hearings held virtually.

You can read more about this in the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory Review in addition to areas identified where guidance is required and types of hearings that are suitable to be heard remotely.

The BBC also reported on the topic:

Additionally, an article in the Guardian dated 2nd June 2020 summarises the problems some people have found with remote hearings, particularly vulnerable parents involved in cases concerning their children.

In summary

  • 1000 judges, lawyers, parents, social workers and other family court users were surveyed.
  • The Report highlighted some hearings that should never have been conducted in the way they were, citing examples of parents being without legal representation or having to find somewhere to deal with a remote hearing away from the children.
  • There is a “strong consensus “ that where the court is asked to make drastic orders or the case becomes where evidence is given then virtual hearings “are not justice and not a humane approach”.
  • Some parents and professionals were unprepared for accessing remote hearings.
  • Generally, all court users felt that for uncontested matters or timetabling case management, remote hearings can operate very well and that this can be a way of working in the future.

Here at Price Slater Gawne, our family team have all had the experience of dealing with remote hearings during the lockdown. We have found that often the Court would approve an agreed order without the need for a remote hearing. When the Court did list for a telephone hearing, we found that these were particularly effective and dealt with efficiently, saving time and client costs.

The general consensus from our family law department is very much in line with the research. We agree that a great number of straightforward cases can be dealt with effectively remotely. However certain complex cases, in the interests of fairness, should not be allowed to proceed remotely.

If you have a hearing scheduled in the Family Court relating to either children or divorce and finances or if there is any aspect of the Family Court system that you’d like to discuss, please do not hesitate to contact us to find out how we can help you.

⋅ Carole Nettleton
Tel: 07958 028069

⋅ Nicholas Clough
Tel: 07538 385956

Our expert family solicitors have over 50 years of combined, hands-on experience and will ensure that your case is dealt with in a prompt, efficient and cost-effective manner.

Our office building remains closed for everyone’s safety, but we are all working, every day, and we can correspond with you by email and discuss your situation by phone, Skype, Facetime or Zoom – whichever suits you best.