12 November 2021

With lockdown in March 2020 came a whole new way of working for the Courts dealing with Family disputes. But what is the current situation for anyone attending court now? Family Associate Solicitor Lesley Powell gives a definitive guide on what to expect.

At the start of the pandemic quick action was taken to build on the limited facilities and court users all became used to sitting at home taking part in Court Hearings via one of the many video messaging platforms available.

The current situation is that a lot of Court Hearings are still being dealt with remotely but attended hearings are becoming more frequent. For case management hearings it is likely that remote hearings will continue to be used for some considerable time.

The President of the Family Division has stated that whether or not a case is attended or remote will be up to the Judge on a case-by-case basis. If ‘important decisions’ are going to be made, subject to individual and local factors, parties and their representatives should be physically present.

So, what is an important decision?

In financial cases these would normally be the Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing where a Judge is trying to assist the parties to negotiate an agreed solution and negotiations between the parties can take place over potentially the whole day. Final Hearings are also key as the parties are required to give evidence for the Judge to assess when deciding the case.

In private law children matters (proceedings about the time that a child spends with the other parent or with whom the child lives) the ‘important decisions’ are usually made at the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment, where the issues are narrowed to see if an agreement can be reached, and the Final Hearing when the Judge hears evidence from the parties so that a decision can be made. If a Fact-Finding Hearing is necessary, for instance where domestic violence is alleged, attendance is likely to be necessary so that the Judge can hear and see ‘face to face’ the evidence given.

So, what is a remote hearing?

You join the hearing via your laptop, tablet or even your mobile phone. It will need to have a microphone and a video. You may have to download software such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom, otherwise the Court may send you a link to join the Court Video Platform (CVP). You need to be in a room on your own that is quiet with no distractions.

There is a midway type of hearing, a hybrid hearing. Usually, parents attend Court with their representatives but some parties, such as the Guardian and solicitor for the children, would attend via video.

Rarely are hearings conducted by telephone and so if you do not have a device with a video, a good internet connection or a place where you can go that is quiet with no distractions you may need to attend your solicitor’s office.

At Battens we have full facilities to enable you to attend Court hearings remotely from one of our offices and we can guide you through the process so that you can follow and take part in the hearing.

For more information contact Lesley Powell or call 01935 846089