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On 23rd July 2021, the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) published a report on the experience of parents and other family members, and professionals, of remote hearings throughout the pandemic and which aspects could continue as part of the family court's post-COVID recovery. The NFJO, a research organisation funded by the Nuffield Foundation, exists to highlight areas for reform in the family justice system and facilitate that reform.
The report, entitled Remote hearings in the family court post pandemic, was requested by the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, and involved a two-week rapid consultation between 10th and 27th June 2021. A total of 3,219 responses were received detailing the experiences of those who had participated in fully remote hearings as well as hybrid hearings (those that involved a mixture of in-person and remote participants. The majority of these responses were from legal professionals.
The majority response was that certain types of remote hearing should continue subject to a number of considerations, such as the extent of the vulnerability of those taking part, how complex the case is, and the availability of suitable technology for the participants. Responses considered certain types of cases – largely preliminary administrative ones – to be more suitable for being remote than fact-finding or final hearings, or those that involve contested applications for contact orders or interim care orders.
The majority of both parents and professionals felt that more needed to be done to ensure that remote hearings proceeded smoothly and fairly. Many (73%) of parent respondents did not feel supported during their hearing, either because were acting in person or because of the difficulties in liaising with their legal representative due to being in different places during the hearing itself.
A number of suggestions for good practice are highlighted in the report, such as the necessity for flexibility as regards the format of hearings, support with preparation for remote or hybrid hearings, and technology improvements.
In response to the report Sir Andrew McFarlane commented:
"I am extremely grateful to the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory for producing this impressive body of work. It is vital that, as COVID restrictions are lifted, we adapt to ensure the Family Justice System excels.
"This report considers our remote working practices and allows us to review what we should, and should not, maintain after the pandemic. Importantly the report gives the perspective of a range of those involved in family justice, including parents and professionals."
For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.Back to Law Articles