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Coronavirus and the family courts - business as usual, but different

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The family courts have explained that they will continue to deal with family law court appointments and hearings, but with some practical changes.

There is now an assumption that they will be dealt with remotely, using email, conference call facilities or video facilities such as Skype for Business.

This arrangement enables court cases to continue to be progressed and reduce the risk of encountering the coronavirus.

“We are already in communication with other solicitors and courts to make new arrangements for upcoming hearings,” explains Neil Denny, family solicitor with Roythornes in Nottingham. 

“There might even be some advantages.  With a conference call, you have a guaranteed start time.  The alternative of having to appear at court often means that you are waiting, sometimes for a couple of hours, to get a slot in front of the judge.  It will also mean that travel time to and from court can be eliminated in order to save costs.”

For many hearings, conference calls over the telephone will suffice.  In these circumstances, the conference call provider, typically BT, will be given the phone number for the Judge, each of the parties and their lawyers.  BT will then contact each number in turn at the allocated time.  The call is recorded and subsequently converted into a transcript.  Video services will be more helpful and relevant where evidence is being given to the court.

Some matters, such as final contested hearings where it is necessary to hear cross examination of evidence, might still need to be in person.  The court will determine how these cases are to be dealt with and will make sure that the physical environment at the court is managed to enable adequate space for attendees.

The courts have long had the power, and been encouraged, to order remote hearings, but they have been infrequently used in the past.  Neil fondly recalls past experiences of telephone hearings.

“I remember one case where I had made an urgent application which was then diarised for a Friday morning. I was due to fly out for a long weekend break on that day and the other party refused to help and change the date.  The court agreed that we would deal with the hearing by telephone instead.

“I conducted that court appointment from the back seat of my car, parked at Gatwick Airport car park.  I got the order that my client wanted plus costs and ten minutes later had checked in for my flight to Venice!”

It seems inevitable that the coronavirus will accelerate the courts’ use of remote hearings.  We expect the new arrangements will continue even once the current situation has passed.  Such an approach will help to drive greater cost savings for clients and the court service alike.

If you have a hearing coming up, assume it will still take place, but remotely.  We will be in touch to fully inform you on how the hearing will work. 

Although these are challenging times, we are determined to continue to promote the interest and welfare of our staff and clients. You can continue to contact any of our experienced family law solicitors by calling us in Spalding on 01775 842555 or by contacting Neil Denny direct in Nottingham on 0115 945 4425. 

We also have the necessary digital platform which enables us to adopt a “business as usual” approach. We would, however, ask that if you have a choice between paper, telephone and digital communications, you choose telephone and digital, because home-working by our colleagues is an increasing mode of operation and there may therefore be some slight delays when dealing with paper transactions.   It follows that we are happy to meet with clients using Skype, Facetime, Google Duo, WhatsApp or almost any video platform that is convenient for you.