Covid-19. Will my family court hearing happen?
20th April 2020 by Shannon Montgomery
Before Covid-19 struck, many families were already going through extremely difficult times in their personal lives due to a relationship breakdown or issues involving children. Those parties who were unable to reach an agreement have found themselves subject to family Court proceedings with the need to meet Court deadlines and attend Court hearings.
However since the Government announced a national lockdown on 23 March, clients have been left anxious and frustrated, unable to meet face-to-face with their legal representatives to discuss matters which are extremely important and often life changing for them.
It also brings to question where does this leave you if you have a court hearing that has already been listed to take place in court, or you have recently made a court application and are waiting for a date to be listed?
Please find below a summary of our local guidance with regard Family Court Hearings during the pandemic.
Local Practice Guidance
HHJ Dancey, the Designated Family Judge for Dorset distributed local practice guidance for remote family Court hearings, in addition to the President’s National Guidance which is summarised below. The default position is that all Family Court hearings will be carried out remotely. Judges will continue to attend Court to conduct hearings subject to any guidance that may be issued or their need to self-isolate.
The preferred method for remote hearings is by ‘Skype for Business’.
Where one or more of the parties is represented by their Solicitor or Counsel, responsibility for arranging the Skype hearing is on the Applicant or the first represented party. This is done by setting up an Outlook Skype invitation to all parties including the Judge.
If neither party is legally represented, the Court will contact the parties with instructions on how to download ‘Skype for Business’ free of charge. The parties will need to confirm no later than 5 days before the hearing, or 24 hours if the hearing is urgent, that they have downloaded ‘Skype for Business’, their email address and their ability to attend the hearing remotely.
In Dorset, Councils are arranging remote facilities in Weymouth, Ferndown and possibly other venues where parties can attend and use Skype to attend hearings remotely.
The Court will be responsible for recording the Skype hearing.
If parties do not have a Skype facility, the Court will instead choose to conduct the hearing by way of telephone.
The hearing must be arranged by the Applicant, the first represented party or by the Court where no party is represented.
The person responsible for arranging the telephone hearing must obtain and provide the telephone numbers of all participants to the Court at least 24 hours before the hearing.
The Court will dial the numbers provided using ‘BT Meet Me’ to join all participants to the hearing.
‘BT Meet Me’ telephone hearings will be recorded.
Given the current need for families to isolate together, there is a potential for increased conflict and domestic violence to occur. The Court understands the importance of these matters being dealt with urgently. Priority will be given to urgent and time-critical cases, in particular:
Private law cases where contact has been stopped completely;
Emergency protection orders; and
Removal under interim care orders.
Remote hearings will be fixed at specified times and the Court will allow time for Orders to be drawn and preparation for the next hearing.
Any participant attending the hearing should ensure they have good connection/signal to avoid communication breakdown during the hearing.
The Court Bundle will be sent to the Court electronically, complying with the usual guidance in the usual way.
If you require any assistance with remote hearings or would like family law advice amid Covid-19, please contact a member of our Family Team who will be more than happy to assist you.