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How am I meant to engage and follow a remote / hybrid Family Court hearing?
- AuthorJasmine Lees
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, Family Court hearings moved to remote hearings which take place over the telephone or via a video platform to allow for social distancing restrictions.
Initially, all major hearings such as final hearings or hearings where evidence was due to be heard by the parties were delayed, re-listed and the cases were re-timetabled where appropriate. However, guidance was then provided to the Family Court about how to proceed with hybrid hearings which allowed for vulnerable parties or those that were required to give evidence in person to attend the Court before the judge.
A recent survey conducted by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory where parents or other family members were interviewed about their experience of remote or hybrid hearings during lockdown, a large number of people reported problems with this format of hearings. Amongst the problems identified was their ability to follow the hearing, understand what was being discussed, issues with technology and having no support to understand and absorb the Court’s decisions.
One participant in the study stated that they felt deprived of their rights during a remote hearing and the process in general which is reported to have worried Sir Andrew McFarlane who is the President of the Family Division. Due to the ongoing difficulties which we may be faced with regards to COVID-19 restrictions in the future, Sir Andrew McFarlane is keen to continue working with the judiciary to address the issues which have been raised and to allow parties to engage in their hearings.
Here at Johnson Astills, we understand the pressures that COVID-19 has placed on those who are engaging in ongoing proceedings before the Court. In the Care Team, we ensure that every client is spoken to prior to any remote hearing so they are aware of how the hearing will progress and will then speak to the client following the hearing to explain what was discussed and the outcome. This also extends to any meetings which we attend with a client such as Child Protection Conferences, Pre-Proceedings meetings and Looked After Child reviews. This is a routine level of service that we provide to our clients to ensure their engagement.
Over the summer during lockdown, we have successfully assisted a number of clients during final hearings and fact finding hearings which are often complex and nearly always involve Important decisions being made in relation to their child/children or case. We do this to ensure that the client feels supported and understands all aspects of any hearing which may take place over a number of days. If there has been issues with client’s engaging in any hearing remotely, the client has been able to attend the hearing remotely from our office where required and is supported by one of our team. We have also been able to ensure that any clients which require an intermediary are continued to be supported in their understanding of the Court proceedings despite cases taking place remotely. Where clients have needed to attend Court to give evidence in hearings, we have ensured that they have been supported appropriately either by their solicitor / barrister or another member of the Care Team.
We appreciate that attending Court can be a daunting experience for anybody but this will be heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic where physical attendance at Court is not always possible. If you have Local Authority involvement with your children at Child Protection level ranging through to Care Proceedings in the Family Court then Johnson Astills can assist you. We have experience in assisting parents at all stages of Local Authority involvement. Please contact Johnson Astills at either our Leicester Office on 0116 255 4855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610 312 and ask for a member of the Care Team so that we can advise you accordingly. Alternatively, please visit either of the above offices or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.