Remote Access Family Court Guidance
Date posted: 30 April 2020
Head of the Family Department, Aysen Soyer considers the Guidance being issued by the Family Courts on this very fluid issue of remote hearings.
The Remote Access Family Court Guidance- version 4 was issued last week. This, coupled with the Family Court decision in RE P (A CHILD: REMOTE HEARING) 2020 EWFC 32, gives us a bit of clarity on how the Family Court is conducting remote hearings, which cases are being prioritised and importantly, dealing with oral evidence by parents in final hearings relating to children which are listed to take place during the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
The practical issues which arise are things like; how to ensure video or telephone evidence is not recorded, or that witnesses are not coached. There is a sense that oral evidence should be provided face to face in person so that the Court is able to properly gauge reaction, facial expression and body language. It is also vital that the Judge is satisfied that the evidence is provided confidentially; and particularly that children are not present or able to overhear the proceedings. In Re P, the President of the Family Court reiterated that if a parent objects to providing remote oral evidence at final hearing, then the proceedings ought to be adjourned until after the current restrictions on social mobility are lifted and the Courts are functioning as usual. The Guidance confirms that where parents have to give evidence in final hearings it must be in person and not remotely.
Ultimately, each case turns on its own facts and whether or not a final hearing is adjourned is a matter for the presiding judge, but the Guidance is a useful tool for parents who wish to apply to adjourn a final hearing for fear that remotely conducted proceedings would be flawed or unsatisfactory in achieving desired outcomes.
A Link to the Guidance is here
Re P is found here
As this is a rapidly changing landscape I also hastily report back on two appeals heard today on the issue of remote hearings in relation to care proceedings: one in respect of a final hearing and the other in relation to an interim care order. In each instance the trial judge had determined to proceed with the hearing remotely leading to orders being made. Both appeals were allowed.
Re A is found here
Re B is found here
If you have a family matter which you need assistance with, or an imminent hearing at court and need some help please contact Mavis on 020 8885 7986 to arrange an appointment.