Is my court hearing still going ahead during this COVID-19 pandemic?

by Nikita Dhindsa

The President of the Family Division issued some guidance on remote hearings on 19th March 2020. The guidance lists 8 types of hearings which may be considered suitable for a remote hearing. The list includes “All directions and case managements hearings” and in particular reference to Public Law children cases, the following three categories:

i) Emergency Protection Orders
ii) Interim Care Orders
iii) Issue Resolution Hearings

Paragraph 10 of the guidance states that it may also be possible that other cases may be suitable to dealt with remotely as the situation is changing so rapidly and the decisions on how to conduct the hearings may differ from different courts. The decision for cases to be heard remotely will be determined by the nature of the case. For example, if a case is listed for a final hearing and the factual issues are limited with only the social worker or Guardian to give evidence, this could be done remotely. In other circumstances if there are lay witnesses and/or parents will be giving it evidence, it may not be suitable for a remote hearing.

Remote hearings can include hearings conducted by telephone and video/Skype.

On 25 March 2020 the President clarified the position, concerning attended hearings by stating that: “… live court-based hearings should now be confined only to exceptional circumstances where a remote hearing is not possible and yet the hearing is sufficiently urgent to mean that it must take place with those involved”.

Mr Justice Macdonald released another version on 16th April 2020 which states that the decision whether to proceed with a remote hearing or to adjourn is up to the Court.

The Court has issued guidance with respect to the prioritisation of certain elements of work in the family jurisdiction. The Court guidance identifies further categories of work that must be done, that will be done and the work that the court will be do its best to accommodate.

If you have a family matter which you wish to discuss in relation to issues of such as domestic violence, children and divorce please contact our offices and one of our team would be happy to assist you.