Family court hearings during Covid
It many come as a surprise, but the Family Court has been operating throughout the Covid crisis this year with varied but generally successful results. What this means is that you need not put on hold resolution of your family problems: you can still apply for an injunction, a divorce, contact to your child or whatever application you need to make.
I recently ‘attended’ a two-day final hearing for a financial settlement following a divorce. The small mountain of paperwork under the name of the ‘court bundle’ had been filed electronically. Such bundles are often so large, they have to be submitted over three or four e-mails. The court had set a date for the hearing and beforehand, had sent out a sheet explaining what technology we required – Skype for Business which is now Microsoft teams – and what number or email address they should use for each party.
My client & I were sitting – socially distanced – in the spacious library at the GoodyBurrett office in Colchester. He could have stayed at home but for a number of reasons, mostly related to the technology involved, we decided it would suit us to hold the meeting at our offices. Our barrister was in her office loft in Ipswich; my client’s ex-wife was at home in Peterborough and her barrister was in Yorkshire. The District Judge was at home dispensing justice from his dining table with a backdrop of very elegant French windows.
We switched on the computer, opened Teams and one by one, the participants switched on their screens and checked their sound & vision. When we were all present, the District Judge opened the hearing and we all introduced ourselves with the formality required of a ‘normal’ court hearing. We all confirmed we were in a private space with no interruptions. The District Judge conducted the hearing as ‘normal’. Evidence was given over the internet, everyone kept their cool, referred to documentation in their court bundle and carried on. Halfway through the second day, we completed the hearing and the District Judge read out his judgement after lunch. Once completed, we switched off our computers and were done for the day. We had pre- and post-hearing conferences with the barrister by telephone
The only real differences were that the hearing was a lot more relaxed in our library than it is when you are sitting in a stuffy witness room at court and of course, there was a lot less travelling involved and no parking charges. I have to say I was surprised and converted. I suspect the court will continue to hold hearings in this way even in a post-Covid era. There have been reports of badly behaved participants: there will always be some who find self-control a challenge and it requires a certain amount of discipline and imagination to transport yourself from your kitchen to the courtroom, but on the whole it works. Thanks to co-operation from everyone concerned, it was successful and far better than yet another adjournment.
Go for it!
Sue, Family Solicitor, Colchester
If you have a family matter which would you like to discuss, please feel free to contact our Family Department on 01206 577676 or email [email protected]
Our Family Department also offers a fixed-fee meeting, this can also be available via Zoom click here for more infomation.