Family Law during lockdown
The biggest challenge during the lockdown has been attending court hearings remotely.
Before coronavirus, I would speak with clients on the telephone, in person and occasionally by WhatsApp or Skype, so client meetings via Zoom have not been such a big change. Since the Lockdown I have seen a barrister for the first time without his jacket, he looked relaxed in shirt sleeves and tie, and I have ‘visited’ the inside of people’s homes when I would otherwise not been invited in.
Attending court hearings remotely however, is a big change. Before the lockdown, family cases were held in person before a judge or magistrates. My client would attend along with me, the other party, perhaps with their legal representative as well. Some hearings require other professionals to attend such as Cafcass in a children’s case so there could be quite a crowd, typically up to nine people at a children’s hearing. This can be difficult to manage remotely.
We also had no idea how a Dispute Resolution appointment was going to work. These are used to negotiate how a case could be resolved directly with the other parties and their legal representative at court, often with the assistance of a judge or magistrates. Hearings can take a full day or longer and typically would involve detailed and lengthy discussion.
Family Law after lockdown
Since the lockdown, most hearings have gone well; judges and magistrates clerks have directed the order of play very clearly. Parties have been keen to try to resolve issues as far as possible before the hearing. Inevitably some hearings have been adjourned, final hearings, when live witness evidence is given, are not fairly dealt with remotely.
It can be tricky over the telephone to gauge how a point is being received when you cannot see the other participants’ reactions and expressions but most cases have gone smoothly and progress has been made.
Not every case is suitable to be dealt with remotely but after the lockdown I see a more flexible approach being taken and a mixture of remote and live hearings working well for practitioners and court users alike.
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*The information provided in this article is designed to provide useful information on the subject, not to provide specific legal advice.