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Follow-up report on remote hearings in family court


11 November 2020
Follow-up report on remote hearings in family court

Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) received 1,300 responses to their rapid consultation on the use of remote hearings in family court in response to COVID-19. The resulting report was a follow-up to a previous consultation and report on the same issue in April.

These recent survey responses varied between different groups. Professionals generally viewed remote hearings positively: 86% felt that things were working more smoothly and some reported benefits to working remotely. However, most parents and relatives (88%) had concerns about how their case was dealt with, and 66% felt their case had not been dealt with well. 40% said they had not understood what had happened during their hearing.

Both groups shared concerns about the difficulties of a remote process being sufficiently empathetic, supportive and attuned to lay parties. There was particular concern about hearings where parties had to participate by phone, including for interim orders to remove babies shortly after birth while mothers were still in hospital. The halt in face-to-face contact between infants and parents involved in interim care proceedings was also highlighted as a concern. In cases involving domestic abuse allegations, respondents spoke of feeling re-traumatised and unsafe having to listen to or see their alleged abuser attending via video from their own home.

Respondents reported continued technical issues related to connectivity and hearing, as well as other problems including communication difficulties between parties and legal representatives before and during hearings. Difficulties were also reported by parents with disabilities or requiring an interpreter.

There was widespread concern for litigants in person in private law matters, with many examples given of support being provided by judges, magistrates and legal advisers. The vast majority of professionals who responded to the survey (79%) had experienced hearings with one or more unrepresented party.

The report made a number of suggestions for improving remote hearings, including:

  • More face to face or hybrid hearings
  • Improvements to technology across the family court estate
  • More administrative staff to support remote hearings

 

A more detailed summary of the report is available here.

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