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| 1 minute read

I'll see you in court?

Since lockdown the family courts have been quick to adopt remote video hearings.

This has proved very beneficial in making sure cases continue to get dealt with. Justice delayed is justice denied, so the saying goes, and this is equally true of family law litigation as any other.

The question arises should we go back to the old system once we are able to?

Clients are usually very nervous about attending court and for some it means international travel unless they are content to appear by video link and the court agrees.

My recent experience is that clients have felt very comfortable with the idea of remote hearings, but could it be too comfortable for some opponents - those who need firm handling by the court system, who perhaps are not engaging properly, or not making a sufficient financial disclosure.

Judges are adept at listening to not just what is said but also what is not said, and the ability to look into the eyes of a person giving evidence, their demeanour, and body language, is limited via an online hearing, compared to having them in court face to face.

If the online process can be used to speed up access to justice that must be a good thing, but its important that that there is no trade off in the quality and integrity of the process, in order to allow the court to continue with full force to fulfil its inquisitorial role in family proceedings.

The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane has announced the commencement of a further consultation on remote and hybrid hearings in the family court. The consultation will run for three weeks from 10 September until 30 September. A report is expected in mid-October. This further research project will again be undertaken by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, an independent organisation which is committed to improving life for children and families by putting data and evidence at the heart of the family justice system. The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory carried out a rapid consultation about remote hearings in the family court in April 2020.  The subsequent report provided many helpful and informative suggestions for good practice.