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Court Hearings during pandemic

Courts in a Coronavirus Pandemic – The Fallout

It is no secret that 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone. The Family Justice system was already under strain with higher numbers of children applications being made each year than the year before.

As a result of the pandemic many people found that their hearings in March or April were suddenly vacated only to be relisted later on in the year as a remote hearing, either by telephone or by a video call software such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom or CVP.

Recently there have been two pieces of guidance one for financial remedy cases and one for children cases that we can take forwards as to how we expect the Court to deal with such matters.

On the 18th November 2020 Mr Justice Mostyn released guidance that stated that where a hearing for a financial remedy matter has to be dealt with remotely it should be dealt with over a video hearing rather than a telephone hearing unless there is no other way to have to the hearing. As a result we expect to see more and more video hearings rather than telephone hearings for financial matters going forwards.

In June 2020 the Ministry of Justice released a report called Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases. This is 216 pages long but in short this found that the resources available are inadequate to keep up with the increasing demand and that more and more cases have unrepresented parties. It also found that there was a heavy ‘pro-contact’ culture which meant that even in some cases where domestic abuse was alleged contact was being ordered. However it was also clear that this is an adversarial system where parents are pitted against each other, with minimal child involvement and that often one parent was in a position of power over the other.

As a result they have made recommendations that alternatives to Court, especially in cases without abuse should be utilised first and the Court only involved as a last resort. They have also recommended that the voice of a child needs to be enhanced and that Court security needs to be improved. They have also recommended that the presumption of parental involvement (that having both parents involved in their life is in the best interests of a child) needs to be heavily reviewed.

This all means that in financial cases the Court should become slightly more accessible with more hearings taking place via video calls rather than telephone. However in children cases unless there is domestic abuse as a genuine issue parents will be expected to do everything they can to agree the way forwards before making an application. In cases with domestic abuse we may see shifts in the law that see children becoming more involved and parents who are not seeing their children due to safeguarding concerns having longer waits and more work to do before they can see their children again.

At Watson Thomas we keep up to date with ongoing changes in the law, we have experts who can advise you when you should and should not issue proceedings and take you through each of the options available.

Watson Thomas Solicitors have offices in Fleet, Guildford, Bracknell, Camberley, Farnborough and Woking.

At Watson Thomas our staff can work from home and access all systems so even if all are required to self-isolate this will not affect the day-to-day running of your case. We can also hold appointments via telephone and video conferencing, as needs be, to ensure that your service is not interrupted.

If you would like to discuss your current situation with an expert family lawyer, please call us on 0800 488 0218.

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