Last week we heard from the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane that the Courts within England and Wales would need to make every effort to ensure that hearings take place remotely. This could be via email, video, telephone, Skype or other platforms such as BT Me and Zoom.
With news from the Prime Minister this week that we should stay at home and only go out for medical needs, one form of exercise per day, essential food shopping and to travel to work only if absolutely necessary, Courts in the South West have announced that there can be no more attended hearings until it is deemed suitable to do so. This will be continually reviewed in line with government guidelines.
The Courts are under pressure to try to ensure that urgent hearings can proceed remotely. They are doing the very best to ensure that hearings can go ahead where possible providing the Judge feels that a suitable and fair outcome can still be achieved. This has all had to be done very quickly and at present the Courts are working through lists day to day. Decisions are often being taken as to how a hearing should proceed or even if it should proceed at all, at very short notice. Whilst this is understandably unsettling for clients, the Court are having to deal with unprecedented circumstances.
At Wolferstans, we have been conducting Court hearings using both telephone conferencing and Skype for Business. We are getting used to this like everyone else, but so far they have worked well.
We have experienced some more complex hearings, for example where evidence needs to be given by the parties or where interpreters are required, adjourned to a future date. If the Court doesn’t feel that a remote hearing can achieve a fair outcome, then decisions are being made to delay the hearing.
We have also seen some straightforward hearings delayed. If the Court thinks that the issues in a particular case are not urgent and that other more urgent hearings need to take priority, they will sometimes decide to delay a hearing to a later date. Whilst we understand that can be frustrating, the Courts are having to do their very best with the resources available.
If you are acting in person and are unsure what is happening with your Court hearing, you should contact the relevant Court the day before the hearing to see if your hearing will go ahead. If you are instructing a solicitor to represent you then they will contact you as soon as they have any news.
As time goes on and everyone adjusts to this new way of working, we are confident that remote hearings will become more efficient. If you have a hearing that is due to take place and need advice on your case, visit our website www.wolferstans.com or call us on 01752 663295.