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Family analysis: Alexander Laing, barrister at Coram Chambers, discusses the operation of remote hearings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and opines as to the extent to which such hearings may be used going forward.
How effective are remote hearings in your experience?
Remote hearings are satisfactory to the extent that, for many cases, they offer a fair process with fair outcomes. Nevertheless, even in those circumstances, something fundamental is missing. For many people whose lives are being churned through the family justice system, the outcome is of defining importance but so is the process of being heard. The lack of immediacy steals something important from that. For many clients, especially at a final hearing at which a significant, heavily contested and long-lasting decision will be made in relation to their life, there is a need to feel the intensity of the process, to live its nuances, to be able to pass notes and express deep frustration (whether with the process, a former partner or the judge) to your lawyer. That is removed. It feels colder. It feels less immediate. It feels more ‘remote’.
In some cases, the problem goes further than that. Back on 16 April 2020, Sir Andrew McFarlane P, in Re P (A Child: Remote Hearing)  EWFC 32,  All ER (D) 115 (Apr), said (at para ) in relation to that case:
‘The judge who undertakes [the final hearing] may well be able to cope with the cross-examination and the assimilation of the detailed evidence from the e-bundle and from the process of witnesses appearing over Skype, but that is only part of the judicial function. The more important part, as I have indicated, is for the judge to see all the parties in the case when they are in the courtroom…and although it is possible over Skype to keep
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