Most parents feel unsupported during remote hearings in UK's Family Court – study

Two legal bodies voice the need for certain processes to be conducted in person

Most parents feel unsupported during remote hearings in UK's Family Court – study

A total of 73% of parents involved in remote Family Court proceedings in the UK have indicated that they do not feel supported during hearings, according to the results of a rapid consultation conducted on post-COVID-19 remote hearings in the court.

The Law Society Gazette reported that of the 173 parents who participated in the consultation, nearly half do not have legal representation. Respondents also raised concerns about communication barriers during proceedings that stemmed from being separated from their lawyers.

One respondent, a mother who was involved in a contentious family matter, commented in the report published on the consultation findings that there should be more recognition of the challenges of remote hearings for lay clients.

“I have read tweets from family lawyers saying remote hearings are so much better because they don’t have to travel as much and they have a better work/life balance,” the respondent said in her statement, which was published by the Gazette. “I rather take exception to these tweets as a person going through possibly the worst situation of my life dealing with a contentious divorce and child proceedings who needs the family law to resolve our situation.”

Two professional legal bodies voiced their concerns regarding the practicality of remote hearings as well. The Association of Lawyers for Children called for fact finding proceedings and final hearings to be held in person. Meanwhile, the Court of Protection Practitioners Association cited a case wherein a solicitor had to travel to a family’s home to provide support during a hearing; the family was not proficient in using technology, and required an interpreter as well.

“Had [the solicitor] not done so, it is hard to see how the remote hearing could have progressed effectively, or at all. Throughout the remote hearing the interpreter had to call the solicitor’s phone during breaks to relay what had happened during the hearing to the client,” the association explained in a statement published by the Gazette.

The report also revealed that many judges and magistrates were especially reluctant to conduct hearings remotely, particularly in cases where evidence is being presented.

“It is too hard to manage the parties in sensitive hearings. We have all had parties sobbing down the phone/live link when you know their children are in the next room,” a magistrate remarked.

Many of the consultation’s respondents believed that whether a hearing should be held live or remotely should be determined on a case-by-case basis based on factors such as the preferences of the vulnerable parties, the complexity of the matter and the availability of access to suitable technology. Nonetheless, most of the respondents acknowledged that remote hearings could continue in certain cases.

The report was commissioned by the president of the family division, and the rapid consultation was undertaken by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. Over 3,200 participants were involved in the survey.

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