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Legal News

Covid-19 and the Family Courts (12 June 2020)

Date: 12/06/2020
Duncan Lewis, Legal News Solicitors, Covid-19 and the Family Courts

The current pandemic has caused the courts to rethink their usual procedure in terms of court hearings. Currently, court hearings and proceedings continue to take place and the courts are trying to limit the level of disruption as much as possible.

It is therefore essential to know and understand how the courts will operate in your family law case.

Can applications for family law proceedings still be made to the court?

The court continues to accept applications for all family law proceedings, and these should be sent to the relevant court by email or post. The amount of applications being received by the family courts have returned to pre-covid levels and the courts only experienced a slight dip in the first few weeks of lockdown. Please note that it may take a few weeks for the court to deal with your application as there are court delays.

Will my family court hearing still take place?

In the early part of lockdown, it was understandable that some cases were adjourned for a short period in the hope that normality would soon return however it now appears that steps are being taken to deal with the backlog by hearings progressing in a number of ways. The court’s default position up until recently was for all hearings to take place by telephone or by other remote facilities however the court will now work to a situation where at least some hearings will be either fully attended by all parties or will take place as ‘hybrid’ hearings.

What is a remote hearing?

A remote hearing is where the hearing will take place by telephone and video communication platforms or an alternative remote facility. This means that you will not physically attend court for the purposes of the hearing. Although not the norm, the hearing should still be treated with privacy and as though it is being attended in person. The hearings continue to be recorded via this method.

What if a remote hearing is not appropriate?

Whether a remote hearing is appropriate will be determined on a case by case basis. The court will take into consideration if the issues can be determined fairly and justly at a fully remote hearing.

If the court does not feel that a remote hearing is appropriate, for example for a Fact Find hearing or final hearing, they may consider a ‘hybrid’ approach. This would mean in some cases, parties are required to attend court to give evidence. Parties and their representatives will be given a date and time to attend court for the purposes of giving evidence. This does not mean all parties and their representatives will attend on the same day.

The parties who are not attending court on that day will continue to attend remotely and watch those who are attending court through video platforms.

Social distancing guidelines will need to be followed when in court.

Alternatively, if safe and appropriate, the hearing can take place with all parties in attendance in person. This will depend upon covid-safe working environments in the court room and buildings. However, please note that the availability of these facilities is likely to be limited and it will not be possible for all hearings to take place in this way.

Will hearings return to normal now that lockdown is being eased?

Although the lockdown is gradually being lifted, the courts do not believe they will return to the normal court working environment before the end of 2020 or even the spring of 2021 and it should be assumed that social distancing restrictions will remain in place for some time.

I am a victim of domestic abuse and need an urgent hearing to obtain a Non-Molestation Order/Occupation Order, is this possible?

The court still considers these matters a priority and an urgent remote hearing will be listed where necessary. These can take place remotely.

My hearing was adjourned during lockdown, when will I get a new court date?

Some hearings were adjourned during early weeks of the lockdown as it was not deemed feasible or fair to have them take place remotely.

The courts have now considered that since courts will not return to normal for some time, the hearings that were previously adjourned will have to take place in the near future.

The court want to avoid any delay in timescales for the sake of any child or children. The court are considering both the child’s welfare and the need to avoid delay.

If you have not been given a new court date, please speak to your solicitor or contact the court directly.

How do I know if my hearing is still going ahead?

If you are represented, please speak to your solicitor. The court will contact you in advance to inform you if the hearing is going to take place and how this will take place. If you have not heard from the court up to 24 hours before the court hearing, please contact them directly.

I want to adjourn my hearing until I can attend in person, is this possible?

If your matter is already being dealt with by the court, the courts are unlikely to wait for face-to-face court hearings to return. It may be the case that a ‘hybrid’ hearing may be relevant and this could be something to consider.

You can choose to delay making your application to the court if you do not feel comfortable attending a hearing remotely. Courts are however unsure at present when they are likely to return to normal and this will only delay your matter.

I do not have a solicitor or access to remote facilities, how will I attend my hearing?

Consideration should be given to allow you to attend a remote location to attend the hearing. This could mean attending a solicitor’s office, a room in a court or Local Authority building where possible. Some hearings will be via telephone however and the court will dial you in, making the process very easy.

Please speak to a solicitor or contact the court if you are not represented.

I do not have a solicitor; do I have to arrange the remote hearing?

If both parties are unrepresented, the court will make arrangements to set up the remote hearing. The court should be in touch with you before the hearing to discuss this. If one party is represented, then often their representative will make arrangements for the remote hearing. You should be provided with details about how the hearing will take place 24 hours before the hearing is listed.

Can other family members/ friends be in attendance at the remote hearing?

The rules for a remote hearing are the same as any hearing which takes place in person. You will need to ensure that you are in private and cannot be overheard during the hearing. We understand that some children are currently not at school and although it may be difficult, it is particularly important that children cannot hear or overhear the court hearing.

My children are in my care and I do not have childcare, what can I do?

If you are unable to attend a remote hearing without the children being present and potentially overhearing the matter, please inform your solicitor. It may be possible for the hearing to take place without you attending as your solicitor will continue to represent you.

If you are not represented and the children are in your care, please inform the court of your situation. If the other party is represented, you should also inform their solicitor.

Where will the Judge be?

The majority of the judiciary so far have been working from home. In the coming weeks, as court buildings return to an open status, it is expected that many Judges will be returning to working in a court building.

The courts overall objective will continue to be that they want to make correct and timely decisions for children and families in a fair way. Although there have been a number of changes and challenges, the court have a ‘can do’ approach and will continue to work as well as possible.

Author, Natasha Patel, is a caseworker in the family department, based in the Luton office where she works under the supervision of Lilas Kayani. Our family team are available to assist new and existing clients on a range of matters through our extensive remote access options.

Contact Natasha on 0207 923 8531 or natashap@duncanlewis.com

Contact Lilas on 0207 014 7397 or lilaska@duncanlewis.com

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