Family court proceedings during the COVID-19 Pandemic

April 7th, 2020

The global pandemic has rapidly changed the way people and businesses interact and there is no exception for the legal profession.

In March, British Judge and President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew MacFarlane suggested the need for significant change in how the Family Court will continue to function during this time of national emergency.

Changes in procedures

While the government has set clear social distancing guidelines, Family Court hearings will be undertaken remotely via; email, telephone or video conference. Every case will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, to see if physical attendance is required as a necessity. Any hearings that can be facilitated remotely must be recorded.

Case-specific factors will determine whether a remote hearing is feasible. Suitable categories have been identified as:

  • All directions and case management hearings
  • Emergency protection orders
  • Interim care orders and injunction applicants where there is limited evidence to be heard

Emergency cases

If the case is an emergency, provisions should still be made for the trial to be conducted remotely. If a case is genuinely urgent, and a remote hearing is not possible, the Court will try and facilitate the hearing face-to-face. The case will proceed and be conducted in a way that will limit social interaction and the chance of infection for all parties involved.

The current instructions are that if the case cannot be listed for a remote hearing, and it isn’t an emergency, it must be adjourned and listed as soon as possible for a directions hearing, which has been categorised as a hearing that can be completed remotely.

The goal of these changes is to identify the best possible way of conducting the court process, in order to achieve a fair outcome in a timely manner, whilst minimising the chance of infection through personal contact.

Significant change in proceedings

The guidance issued indicates a significant change in the way Family Court proceedings are conducted, which enables us to continue to operate and meet the needs of those who rely on 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 enqs@donnelly-elliott.co.uk or call 02392 50 55 00.

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