One of the major changes to the way we operate as a society due to the Covid-19 pandemic has been in the Courts. From the first lockdown in March 2020, Courts have had to adapt to remote hearings where possible and Family Court matters are among those that are currently held completely by remote technology.
In fact, it’s only in certain circumstances at the moment that any family Court hearings will be held in-person, with the vast majority being able to move to remote hearings held online.
What Is a Remote Hearing?
A remote hearing is the process for hearing any Family Court case during this Coronavirus crisis remotely, as in, using technology to communicate but without coming to the Court in person.
If your case is listed to be held remotely, then all parties will be heard the same way, meaning no-one is going to physically be in Court and so one party is not gaining any advantage over the other.
Instead, you will all be joining in the proceedings via video-link on your phone or tablet, or sometimes by a phone call. Apart from not being together in the same room, the process is the same as though you were in Court, the Court has exactly the same powers and you’re expected to take it just as seriously as if you were attending in person.
What Types Of Technology Can Be Used In A Remote Hearing?
Although the Court video-link system is very heavily used, there are other types of technological tools that may be employed to make a remote hearing run smoothly. These include: –
- Telephones – usually ‘call conferencing’ facilities
- Skype for Business
- On occasion, Facetime, Zoom or BT MeetMe may be used
- CVP – (Cloud Video Platform)
Your legal team ( or myself) will be able to discuss with you what will be used in the instance of each remote hearing, It is likely that longer hearing will employ several different methods of communication, but after nearly a year of working remotely in lockdown, none of these methods should seem strange to any of us any more.
Are Remote Hearings Fair?
This interesting question was recently asked at a conference attended by over 100 family solicitors and barristers, and the vote was overwhelmingly (56%) in favour of registering them as ‘not fair’.
This is despite the very strong evidence that all remote hearings have been delivered effectively with fair outcomes, so if it’s not the outcome that’s in doubt is it, in fact, the practice of holding remote hearings themselves that the legal practitioners are questioning?
What Are The Main Pros And Cons Of Remote Hearings?
Let’s be clear, there are actually several positives. Reduced travelling time to the Courts, reduced costs, shorter days – for all parties involved, but obviously this is hugely beneficial to the families.
As technology improves, and as our familiarity and confidence with using it grows, remote hearings should run more and more smoothly. This helps overall keep the days shorter and make the process less stressful:providing all parties feel they are getting a fair hearing using the technology.
And at the moment, that last point is the major negative when gathering feedback from participants about remote hearings. If families aren’t made to feel that they are valued, that their feedback and input matters, and that their voice counts then ultimately, remote court hearings will be consigned to the history books on Coronavirus as a chapter for law students in the future to read about, but never experience themselves.
What Do Other Families Think About Remote Hearings?
While a study at the end of 2020 concluded that most of the legal professionals felt that the remote hearings were fair most or all of the time, one obvious point from the report is the reaction to that question from others.
Most parents, family members and parent/family support organisations answered negatively when asked if remote hearings were fair. The majority had concerns about the way their case was dealt with and almost half of those questioned did not understand what had happened during the hearing.
What Can Be Learned From This?
Clearly, there’s a lesson to be learned about ensuring parents, family members, and support groups have a thorough and robust understanding of the Court process, even though it’s been held in their home.
Perhaps the Court themselves could do more to set the scene for the hearings and lay more groundwork to make all parties feel more secure in the decisions and judgements handed down by remote hearings.
For any further advice or assistance in respect of family law matters, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.