What is a remote Family Court hearing and how do they work?
In recent months, due to the coronavirus pandemic, many Family Court hearings have had to move out of their historical buildings to an online world.
Both family lawyers and the subjects of these hearings have had to adapt their normal processes to this new virtual way of life and get to grips with a whole host of new technology, including Zoom and telephone conferences.
Family Paralegal, Charlotte Wait, answers some frequently asked questions about remote hearings.
What is a remote hearing?
A remote hearing is, put simply, a hearing that takes place using technology, rather than inside a court. Participants can attend these virtual hearings in their own homes, via video or telephone call.
Should all Family Court hearings take place remotely?
There has been a gradual increase in the number of cases heard in court since Covid-19 guidelines have been lifted. The courts are of a view that the circumstances around each case and each court will vary and it would therefore not be appropriate to have a blanket rule as to when a remote hearing is appropriate or not. Most straightforward directions or case management hearings are likely to be appropriate to be heard remotely.
What if I cannot attend remotely?
If you are going to struggle with participating in a remote hearing, due to a lack of internet access, for example, you need to tell the court as soon as possible.
The court will assist you in resolving your problem, where possible. The judge will decide whether the hearing can go ahead or whether it should be adjourned.
If the Family Court arranges a remote hearing and you do not join the hearing, the judge may make decisions about your case without you.
How do I prepare for a remote hearing?
You should find a quiet space in your home where you will not be disturbed or overheard by anyone. Let the people who live with you know that you cannot be interrupted during the hearing.
It sounds simple, but when facing a hearing, stress levels can run high and you can forget the basics, such as charging your device. Make sure your laptop or phone is fully charged or plugged into a power source to avoid getting cut off during the hearing.
All documents required for the hearing will be contained within the court bundle, which will be provided by your family solicitor via email before the hearing. Please make sure you have this to hand before the hearing starts.
How are remote hearings different to in-person hearings?
Aside from them being virtual, remote hearings are no different to attended hearings, and so the same rules apply.
You should not eat, smoke or drink anything other than water during the hearing. You are required to follow the court instructions. We also recommend that you mute your microphone during the hearing, unless you are speaking, to ensure that any background noise is blocked out.
How will the Family Court ensure I am kept safe during a hearing?
If you are a victim of domestic abuse, whether alleged or proven and would like the court to make arrangements for your safety during a hearing, there is specific guidance for this.
The Family Court can provide instructions on how you can blur your background, or use a generic background if the platform being used enables this. They may also allow you to join the hearing with audio only and to leave your camera off.
If you are required to give evidence, the court may request that your camera be turned on, but that the camera of the other party is turned off. If you are represented and the hearing does not require evidence to be given, then the court may excuse your attendance. In this instance, your lawyer will take instructions from you over the phone before the hearing.
How do I access telephone hearings?
The court will organise the hearing. Both parties are responsible for notifying the court of their preferred contact number at least 48 hours before the hearing. If you are represented, your solicitor will notify the court of this on your behalf.
The court will call you at the time of the hearing. The call may come from an unknown number. If you use call barring services, then please make sure you have turned them off ahead of the hearing so that the court can reach you.
When the court calls you, you will hear a welcome message saying that you are invited to join a conference call. The call is automated and instructions will be given to you via an automated message. Once you’re in the hearing, stay on mute until you’re asked to speak.
How do I access a video hearing?
The court will send you an email with the information you need to access the hearing. You should receive this the week before your hearing. If you are represented, your lawyer will receive the link on your behalf and will forward this to you before the hearing.
Once you receive the email, you should open the link on your chosen device before the hearing to test if it works. On the day of the hearing, simply click the link at the time of your hearing.