Remote hearings have parents appearing alone

Remote hearings have parents appearing alone

Research has revealed that many parents are appearing remotely in family courts, alone and sometimes without the technology required to enable them to take part in proceedings.

This is problematic as the proceedings often result in life-changing decisions being made.

The research was conducted by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, in response to a consultation initiated by Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Court Division.

The study revealed:

  • 86% of professionals felt that things were working more smoothly in April, with 78% agreeing that fairness and justice had been achieved in the cases they were involved with most of all of the time
  • 88% of parents reported concerns about the way their case was dealt with; 66% felt that their case had not been dealt with well
  • 40% of parents said they had not understood what had happened during the hearing

Professionals and parents expressed concern about the difficulty of creating an empathetic and supportive environment when hearings are held remotely.

There was particular concern about hearings where interim orders are made to remove babies shortly after birth, with mothers having to join by phone from hospital, or final hearings where care orders or placement or adoption orders were made. The halt in face-to-face contact between infants and parents in cases involving interim care proceedings was also highlighted as a concern, the Nuffield observatory reported. In cases involving allegations of domestic abuse, respondents spoke of feeling ‘retraumatised and unsafe’ when they had to listen to or see their alleged abuser from their own home.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division, said:

“This important piece of independent research, which holds a mirror up to the system, is a most valuable reflection after six months of remote working. Encouragingly, most professionals, including judges, barristers, solicitors, Cafcass workers, court staff and social workers, felt that, overall, the courts were now working more effectively and that there were even some benefits for all to working remotely.

“However, the report highlights a number of areas of concern that need to be addressed. There are clearly circumstances where more support is required to enable parents and young people to take part in remote hearings effectively. I am very alert to the concerns raised in this report, and I will be working with the judiciary and the professions to develop solutions.”

David Greene, Law Society President, said that people who have to go through the process without a lawyer may struggle with such hearings.

“This is particularly relevant in emotive cases – such as care proceedings or domestic abuse cases – where there is a real need to have face-to-face interaction with their solicitor, who can offer support and ensure they understand the proceedings.”

He added:

“Before making remote hearings permanent in any area of law, there must be more comprehensive data collection and consultation with both the legal profession and court users to ensure such hearings do not impact access on justice.”

Want to have your say? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more stories

Join nearly 3,000 other family practitioners - Check back daily for all the latest news, views, insights and best practice and sign up to our e-newsletter to receive our weekly round up every Thursday morning. 

You’ll receive the latest updates, analysis, and best practice straight to your inbox.