The Road Ahead for the Family Courts

In our latest series of blogs we have been documenting how the family courts have been able to remain operating whilst court buildings remained closed; as  Judges, barristers, solicitors, experts and court users embraced technology and used remote hearings.

We have also touched on the proposed use of hybrid hearings where the judge, parties and lawyers maybe present in court subject to social distancing but where experts / witnesses give evidence remotely.

On 9th June 2020, Sir Andrew McFarlane, the Head of the Family Courts in England and Wales released a report titled “The Road Ahead” for the family courts in England and Wales commenting

“It is necessary to look at the road ahead because any rose tinted thoughts that “this will all be over by July” have sadly evaporated and it is now clear that, whilst the situation of total lockdown may be gradually relaxed, the need for stringent social distancing restrictions is likely to remain for many months to come”.

You can read the full report here.

In summary this report states:

  • Timescales – we are to assume that it will be many months and unlikely before the end of 2020 or Spring 2021 before the family courts return to anything like ‘business as usual’.
  • The volume of cases is still high.
  • In matters involving children, the need to avoid delay is a most important consideration.
  • All agencies involved in the delivery of family justice need to work collaboratively to make the journey as smooth as possible.
  • There will be a move to hybrid hearings with large enough court rooms to accommodate social distancing.
  • The aim is for court buildings to commence opening in June 2020 to a point in July where all family courts are open; although social distancing measures will definitely reduce capacity.
  • Hearing will still be conducted remotely, with the preferred platform being the Cloud Video Platform ( CVP ) / Microsoft Teams.
  • Telephone hearings suited to short case management hearings / review hearings will continue.
  • Support is needed for lay parties. We identified this topic in one of our earlier blogs, where we talked about the problems that parties encountered where access to technology was limited or a suitable place to take part in a hearing wasn’t possible, particularly if children were at home. A lack of time with legal advisers was also identified with the hope being that technology can link the parties to their lawyers remotely or that parties can now take part in a remote hearing at their solicitors office or barristers chambers.
  • Sir Andrew McFarlane identified the valuable input provided by the Transparency Project which provides assistance for lay parties to help them with understanding the remote hearing process.
  • The use of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) was to be used wherever possible. This includes Mediation, Collaborative Law, and Arbitration.

Two of our family team, Nicholas Clough and Jackie Rawcliffe are collaboratively trained. Nicholas is also a trained mediator.

We also have experience and can guide you through Private Financial Dispute Resolution hearings and private Arbitration which can be more cost effective and a quicker outcome than going through the court process.

  • Remote hearings are likely to continue as the predominant method of hearing all cases for the immediate future.

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 Family Court proceedings that you need to discuss, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free, no-obligation discussion to find out how we might 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.