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Remote hearings: should they continue to play a significant role in family cases?

In December 2022, the Family Justice Council (made up of senior family judges and lawyers) met to discuss whether remote hearings should continue to play an important role in family cases. These hearings took off in popularity during the  covid-19 pandemic. The great majority of hearings were held by video. Since the end of the pandemic earlier in 2022 more hearings have started to occur in person. There is a now a hybrid situation with especially interim hearings taking place remotely and some final hearings taking place back in person.


Remote hearings have many benefits.


Efficiency. They allow hearings to proceed in situations where parties cannot physically attend (pandemic or no). Nowadays, judges can go from one hearing to another in just a few clicks. Lawyers and parties do not have to travel to and from court. They can log on at the last minute – no more waiting hours in the court corridors and this saves lawyer time for clients who are paying.


Client reassurance. Clients may feel more comfortable facing this difficult moment from home. If tensions are running high clients may prefer not to meet in a court room or corridor.


The effects of the pandemic have driven wider digital innovation with more court documents filed electronically. Paper bundles are now almost unheard of.


But there are also disadvantages to remote hearings.


Technical problems. Although fewer in number than the start of the lock-downs, connection problems still occur (often because of poor investment in court systems).


Judicial control. There is less control by the judge over their courtroom. It might be more difficult for the judge to form an opinion about the parties through a screen. But surprisingly, perhaps, judges and lawyers (except in the most sensitive cases) have not reported a significant degradation in the quality of evidence given via remote hearings.


Communication with the team. A further disadvantage is the difficulty of communication between the lawyer and client especially during break-out moments. This can be frustrating, despite the use of other means of communication during the hearing such as WhatsApp. It is hard to substitute the benefits of face to face meetings between the members of a legal team.


We will soon know what the conclusion of the Family Justice Council is. One thing is for sure: we need certainty. In several cases, we have found ourselves in the situation where a hearing was listed as remote, but was changed to an in-person hearing at the last minute. This can put parties in difficulty, in terms of organisation and cost, especially those living far away.