Are remote hearings in family proceedings here to stay?

Are remote hearings in family proceedings here to stay?

Family analysis: Charles Hale QC of 4PB considers remote hearings, both during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and in the longer term, the advantages of hearings taking place remotely and factors that can increase effectiveness, as well as areas for improvement.

How effective are remote hearings, in your experience?

The pandemic has changed many things for good and the structure and delivery of family justice is most certainly one of them. Remote hearings are now up and running, and in my view, very much here to stay. The effectiveness of remote hearings depends in my recent experience on at least the presence of three things: 

  • preparation—each of the ‘actors’, including the court, need to be fully prepared for the hearing, knowing what is to be expected in the hearing and understanding the technical requirements needed to make the hearing work
  • good tech—whatever the platform used, it will only work if all the participants have adequate tech to enable that to happen—that can be a little as a mobile, a smart phone or as much as a multi-screen multi-platform set up, and
  • willingness and determination—this is all new to so many and for remote hearings to be successful, and therefore effective, what is required is a willingness to participate a fully as possible and a determination to deliver family justice fairly, quickly and proportionate to the problem at hand

Some hearings can be dealt with more than adequately on the telephone (usually BTMeetMe). In my experience both first hearing dispute resolution appointments in private law children cases and first directions appointments have been effective over a call. There can be problems—at the start of the ‘new normal’, I had a hearing involving a father in Iraq who was called by the court to take part in the hearing—the father dropped out of the call once, but I dropped out twice and I was in London! It took a judicial deep breath and perseverance, but the hearing was by the end fairly heard and determined.

What do you anticipate will be the long-term approach to remote hearings?

There is no doubt that remote hearings will, for the foreseeable future, be the ‘new normal’ in almost all family cases, save those which will require an open court hearing for severe urgency or some other good reason. Judges will become more used to the tech and more willing to case manage hearings in advance to ensure a smoother delivery of family justice

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