Coronavirus (COVID-19)—HHJ Tolson QC update on Central Family Court​

Coronavirus (COVID-19)—HHJ Tolson QC update on Central Family Court​

HHJ Robin Tolson QC, Designated Family Judge at the Central Family Court (CFC), has written to users of the court to update them on how the CFC plans to operate in June 2020 as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In summary:

• some courts will open for longer hearings

• the number of people attending in person will be strictly limited

• only one hearing will be listed at any time

• almost always only one hearing will be listed each day in any court, and

sample directions are provided as a guide and will be changed to suit each case

The full update from HHJ Tolson QC is set out​ below:

'Dear Central Family Court User,

Thank you for your co-operation during May. I would now like to inform you of plans for June.

We are able to open some courts, perhaps as many as 10, for longer hearings (which we recognise are likely in the main to be 'hybrid' to some extent). A full risk assessment has taken place and the safety of all visitors has been a first consideration. We have test-driven a few cases which have gone well. I will not set out all the measures which will be in place to promote safety and social distancing, but I do not believe that any will take you by surprise. Please let me know if you would like to tour the building in advance in order to reassure yourself or colleagues.

In particular, however, I must mention that the number of people attending will be limited without express permission of the judge (parties; one advocate per party; witnesses; interpreters; intermediaries; one representative for any corporate body (i.e. a social worker but not also a team manager)). Of course judges will be alive to permitting others, but social distancing must be observed and courtrooms are strictly limited in the number of people who will be permitted to attend.

I am attaching "sample directions" which you may see appearing in orders shortly. I emphasise I am not issuing these orders now. They are only a guide and will be changed to suit the particular case. It would, however, assist if your working assumption is that they, or something like them, are likely to apply to your 'in court' hearing.

It is important also to note that only one hearing will be listed at any time, and almost always only one hearing each day in any court. This avoids the morning rush hour.

Unfortunately, this may result in a necessary reduction in judicial continuity. This cannot be avoided.  We are adopting a team approach. Some judges are assigned to care, some to private law children, some to financial remedy cases (no real change there) and some to 'shorts'.

Please feel free to give me feedback as to how the new system is working. I have no doubt that our plans are merely work in progress. They will be reviewed not just monthly, but weekly. I have consulted and will consult again with representative organisations. We are keen to get this right.

The key point is, however, that there are now a great many cases to be tried. Some of course will adjourn for reasons beyond court resources. This is recognised.

Key, however, to the success of this system is knowledge in advance of the hearing of which cases are likely to settle, narrow or go short and what issues there may be as to the format of the hearing.

In our well-being document we seek to recognise the difficulties for professionals in always getting case summaries and position statements in on time. For the moment, however, we ask for strict compliance with time limits for these documents and a careful analysis of the real issues – from everyone in all circumstances, but especially from local authorities in care cases. It is so many of these public law cases which have already been adjourned from other dates, which are now urgent and steps must be taken for them to be determined. We simply must maximise the resources we have – and even if we open the maximum number of courts available to us we will still be running at less than 40% of capacity in that respect.

I must now tell you about remote hearings – 'shorts', trials where that is agreed, trials which cannot or should not be conducted in court or as 'hybrid'. We are a pilot centre for the new CVP and we are aware that a lot of training is being put in place for professionals on this system – which HMCTS hope will become the default platform for remote hearings generally. Unfortunately, there have been delays and we have taken a decision here at CFC that it is no longer possible to wait for these to be ironed out. Consequently, from 1 June and for the time being Skype will become the default platform for remote hearings. This is a move from BTMeetMe, which has served well as a stop-gap, but there is a general appreciation that a video platform is needed.

The practical change is that you will be asked to supply email addresses as well as telephone numbers by the court office, and also confirmation that everyone taking part in the hearing will be able to access Skype. We recognise that some – I hope not many – lay clients will not be able to access Skype without assistance from their professional advisor.

I wish you and all your colleagues well and thank you again for your co-operation.

Yours ever,

Robin Tolson​'

Source: Central Family Court in June: A message from His Honour Judge Robin Tolson QC (Resolution member login required)

Subscription Form

Related Articles:
Latest Articles:

Access this article and thousands of others like it free by subscribing to our blog.

Read full article

Already a subscriber? Login