Although the Family Courts across England and Wales are not ‘open’ to the public, they continue to function fully, with administrative staff working to progress matters as normal and Judges continuing to hear cases remotely. At Myerson, we have transformed ourselves into a virtual firm with full success, continuing to progress matters efficiently. The priority in which the Court will hear cases, however, is naturally reflective of a global pandemic, and adjournments will be common.
In nearly all cases, hearings are being held as a telephone conference call, or through Skype video.
In person hearings are only being held in exceptional circumstances where a remote hearing is not able to take place by any method, and where there is sufficient urgency.
Fairness and justice in the process remains paramount, and telephone or video hearings remain a formal legal arena for the Court to hear disputes. Requirements are being followed as closely as possible to courtroom hearings to ensure consistency in outcomes.
If the COVID-19 pandemic may negatively affect the outcome of your case, you can apply to adjourn the hearing. In some cases, the Courts are adjourning hearings themselves. All Final Hearings for financial remedy proceedings listed before 6th May 2020 are being adjourned to a later date.
All applications to the Court are currently being filed electronically. There is no requirement for ‘wet’ signatures so parties can sign documents online, such as by printing and scanning them or using e-signatures. A printed name will be accepted by the Court as a valid signature.
Courts are not yet able to seal orders electronically, but this is being actively worked on.
Although it may be difficult, parties must try to find a suitably private location at home to ensure that nobody else can see or hear proceedings, and headphones are recommended. The Courts are aware this is not always possible and in certain cases, such as interim hearings, the Court may permit your excusal from attending.
If there are children at home, where possible another member of the should monitor them during the hearing. This is especially pertinent where the children will be discussed in proceedings. Hearings must still remain confidential and it can be very damaging for children to overhear discussions.
When this is not possible, and no safeguards can be put in place, you should talk to your solicitor or the Judge ahead of the hearing to decide what appropriate arrangements can be made.
It is illegal to record, broadcast or transmit any images or material from a remote hearing and parties must be extremely careful to comply with these rules, in the same way as if attending a normal courtroom hearing.