COVID-19 and the Family Courts
As we all know by now, COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on every aspect of our lives. The Family Court in England and Wales are no exception and have had to find and adapt to a new way of working. Despite the pandemic, life continues and people still require the assistance of the Court. The Courts are still operating and have reported that save for a dip in the first few weeks of lockdown, the volume of applications being made has either remained at the usual levels or have significantly risen.
At the start of lockdown, the Court buildings and Courtrooms were closed and hearings were taking place on a remote basis by telephone or SKYPE. A number of Court buildings and Courtrooms have started to reopen but they are still not able to run at full capacity because of the social distancing measures. It seems as though the majority of hearings are still proceeding on a remote basis.
As well as the Courts adapting to a new way of working, legal professionals have also had to do the same. As hearings have been taking place remotely, pre-hearing discussions and post-hearing discussions have had to take place at convenient times in advance of hearings, as opposed to being at Court on the day. It could be argued that despite there being new working practices during these times, the public have still been able to access justice, despite us being in the midst of a public health emergency.
The Courts have made it clear that there will not be an immediate return to the usual way of working. The Courts are introducing a hybrid method whereby some parties are physically in attendance at Court and others are in attendance remotely via Skype. This has allowed more cases to be heard whilst still adhering to the current social distancing guidelines. The Courts are unlikely to return to a full working capacity until 2021 but in the meantime, the Family Courts are continuing to run at an effective rate, ensuring that people that require the Court’s assistance are able to continue to do so.