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The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has issued a message on the next steps to achieve the most efficient return to court over the coming months, including implementing best practices learned from remote working. The President's message follows the message from the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, on 17 March 2021 as to the recovery of the courts in which he said:
'There will be a continuing role for judges, magistrates, staff and legal professionals in ensuring that the recovery of courts is both safe and successful. Remote and hybrid hearings will still play their part in managing footfall in courtrooms and public areas. With more people attending court everyone must continue to follow the guidance on social distancing, hand sanitising, the wearing of face coverings and any local arrangements. This will ensure that as restrictions are eased, the administration of justice continues to be delivered safely.'
The full text of the President's message is set out below:
At the beginning of the Pandemic I asked Lord Justice Baker to lead a Judicial recovery group for the Family Court. That group has worked tirelessly to plan for our return to more normal working and to ensure that best practices and current challenges have been captured for consideration when we are looking at potential longer term changes.
The Lord Chief Justice has now signalled the start of a process so that, as Covid restrictions are relaxed, a move towards more face-to-face hearings will begin, whilst at all times having due regard to considerations of safety.
I have now asked Baker LJ to focus his attention on how we achieve the most efficient return to court over the coming months, including implementing the best practices learned from remote working.
The gradual return to face-to-face hearings will not be the end of remote working, indeed some form of remote working is likely to be required for the foreseeable future and we have learned that, in some cases, remote working is the most efficient way of dealing with some hearings. The aim is to get the balance right and this period of review is plainly very important.
To ensure that the process of review encompasses all of the work of the Family Court, Baker LJ has expanded his group to include a representative for the Financial Remedies Courts: HHJ Stuart Farquhar.
It is essential that family continues to collaborate with civil and other jurisdictions, and Baker LJ will be working closely with Simler LJ who is leading a similar project in the civil jurisdiction.
Over the coming weeks Baker LJ will be contacting many of you to ask for feedback, ideas and volunteers to assist with this work.
I am most grateful to him and to you, for your continued support.
The most recent guidance issued by the President on proceedings in the family courts during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, The Road Ahead 2021, can be accessed here.
Geraldine Morris is a solicitor and head of LexisPSL Family.
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Geraldine is Head of LexisPSL Family. She was admitted as a solicitor in 1992 and was in practice for 15 years, most recently as a partner and head of the family team at Hart Brown, a large Surrey firm.
Geraldine writes for Butterworths Family Law Service and is a past editor of the Resolution Review. She has been published in the New Law Journal, the Law Society Gazette and the District Judges’ Bulletin as well as in the national press including the Times and the Telegraph.
When in practice she was a member of the Law Society Family and Children Panels, and an accredited Resolution Specialist with a focus on advanced financial provision and pensions. A past Resolution regional secretary and press officer, Geraldine also contributed chapters to the Resolution publications, International Aspects of Family Law (3rd Edition 2009) and The Modern Family (2012).
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