COVID-19, or coronavirus, has affected almost every aspect of life – and family law is no different.
On 19 March 2020 the president of the Family Division, Sir Andrew MacFarlane, signalled a ‘significant change in direction’ in how the Family Courts will work as he became the latest senior judge to issue coronavirus related guidance.
Unless the court requires physical attendance at Court for fairness and justice, which will be considered on a case-by-case basis, the default position is that Family Court hearings will be undertaken remotely via:
Any arrangement for a remote hearing must make provision for the hearing to be recorded.
Case-specific factors will determine whether a remote hearing takes place. Suitable categories include:
- All directions and case management hearings
- Emergency protection orders
- Interim care orders and injunction applications where there is limited evidence to be heard.
Even where a case is urgent, it should be possible for arrangements to be made for it to be conducted remotely. Where a case is genuinely urgent, and it is not possible to conduct a remote hearing and there is a need for pressing issues to be determined, then the court will endeavour to conduct a face-to-face hearing in circumstances (in terms of the physical arrangement of the court room and waiting area) which minimise the opportunity for infection.
In the event the case cannot be listed for a remote hearing, the case must be adjourned and listed promptly for a directions hearing, which should be conducted remotely.
The primary aim of the directions hearing should be to identify the optimal method of conducting the court process in order to achieve a fair and just hearing of the issues but, at the same time, minimising as much as possible the degree of inter-personal contact between each participant.
This Guidance is intended to deliver a very significant change of direction in the method of working within the Family Court, whilst at the same time enabling us to continue to operate and to meet the pressing needs of those who turn to the court for protection and justice.
If you have any questions at all on how this may affect you, please do not hesitate to contact