The sudden outbreak of the Coronavirus has had a significant impact on all our lives, both at home and at work. It has also affected the legal profession.

Following the government lockdown, Sir Andrew MacFarlane, the president of the Family Division announced changes to the way Family Courts will function during the pandemic.

The changes allowed for Court hearings to be conducted remotely, unless the court requires physical attendance for fairness and justice.

Remote hearings can be conducted either via; email, telephone or video conferencing technology and all must have the ability to be recorded. Case-specific factors will determine whether a remote hearing takes place.

Suitable categories for remote hearings include:

  • All directions and case management hearings;
  • Emergency protection orders, and
  • 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 the matter to be dealt with 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 that a 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 whilst minimising (so far as possible) the degree of inter-personal contact between each participant.

The Guidance is intended to deliver a very significant change of direction in the method of working within the Family Court whilst enabling us to continue to operate and to meet the pressing needs of those who turn to the court for protection and justice.

Ignoring child court orders

Last month, Sir Andrew McFarlane made a further announcement, stating that those ignoring child court orders could end up facing legal action. The current guidance for parents who live apart is that children under the age of 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes after a sensible discussion, and an assessment that the child/children are not being put at risk.

If you have any questions regarding child court orders or how this might impact you, please do not hesitate to contact via telephone 01296 318 500 or email law@pandcllp.co.uk

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