I am due to have a court hearing in the coming weeks. Will it still go ahead?
There is a strong public interest in the family justice system continuing to function as normally as possible despite the pandemic, so there is a concerted effort to ensure that most hearings will go ahead, taking place remotely (on which, see below).
However, due to the impact that Covid-19 is having on the ability of the Family Court to function as normal (for example, where staff are off sick or unable to work remotely, some hearings are being adjourned to a later date. This very much depends on the type of hearing that is due to take place and that particular court’s ability to provide as full a service as possible. Either way, the court will let you know beforehand the status of your hearing and what information they need from you to be able to conduct your hearing remotely.
Will I still need to go to Court?
The default position is that, for the time being, all Family Court hearings are going to be undertaken remotely either via telephone, video or Skype.
Notwithstanding the default position, where the requirements of fairness and justice demand that a court-based hearing takes place, and if it is safe to conduct one, it can be done if appropriate safeguards against infection are put in place.
What types of hearings will take place remotely?
- All directions and case management hearings;
- Public Law Children (Emergency Protection Orders; Interim Care Orders; Issue Resolution Hearings);
- Private Law Children (First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointments; Dispute Resolution Appointments; Other interim hearings; Simple short contested cases);
- Injunction applications where there is no evidence that is to be heard (or only limited evidence);
- Financial Cases;
- Other hearings as directed by the judge concerned.
If your hearing is a Financial Dispute Resolution appointment (FDR) then the courts are encouraging parties to conduct these privately. You should speak to your solicitor or barrister about what this means.
How will the remote hearing be set up?
If both parties have instructed solicitors, then it is the applicant’s solicitors’ responsibility to organise the hearing with the court.
If only one of you has instructed a solicitor, then it is up to that solicitor to organise the hearing with the court, even if that party is not the applicant.
You should contact your solicitor, or if you do not have one, the other party’s solicitor, to see what arrangements have been made for your hearing.
If neither of you have a solicitor, then the court is responsible for arranging the remote hearing and you should be contacted directly by the court with those arrangements.
What happens on the day of the remote hearing?
You must ensure that you are ready to be linked in to the remote hearing promptly at the listed time. This means that you should download any software that you may need in advance.
You must also ensure that:
- Both the background visible on the screen and your clothing are appropriate for a court hearing;
- your face can be seen and you are in a well lit area;
- you are somewhere quiet where you will not be interrupted or distracted;
- the confidentiality of the proceedings is protected (using earphones is a good idea).
You do not need to stand up when the Judge joins the hearing or if you are addressing them, but you will need their permission if you wish to move away from the screen during the hearing.
For further information on any of the issues raised in the above briefing, please contact a member of Winckworth Sherwood’s Family team.