Are remote hearings here to stay in the family court?

The President of the Family Division has announced that the functioning of the Family Court is unlikely to return to full and ordinary operation until Spring 2021 and, even by then, there may be a new normal to the court working environment.

Most of the court buildings have been closed to the public as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving many court hearings to be adjourned or to take place remotely, where possible.

By early July 2020, the Family Court intends to reopen all court buildings for public use. The court buildings will have substantially reduced capacity due to social distancing requirements and not all court rooms will be considered suitable for hearings, if the parties and their legal representatives cannot be kept the required distance apart. That means there will continue to be a considerably lower volume of physical hearings than pre-lockdown and the judges will have far less time to devote to each case. How effective a hearing can be, will likely depend on the lawyers narrowing down the issues to go before the court, as there simply will not be time for a judge to address every issue of a case.

Previously parties could choose to attend court with a family member or friend for much needed support, however, with the limited capacity of the court buildings, this is now unlikely to be an option for most people.

Many people have had their cases adjourned to await a full face-to-face hearing. There will be some cases where a face-to-face hearing is essential, but it is now clear that for the upcoming months the Family Court expects that the vast majority of cases will be heard remotely by way of telephone or video conference.

Should you require advice on an upcoming court hearing or a family law matter in general, please contact family law solicitors.