Family Courts are continuing to operate during the coronavirus lockdown and are conducting Court hearings over telephone or video conference. However, they are operating with a reduced workforce, meaning that some Court hearings could be delayed as a result.
If You Have a Scheduled Court Hearing
If you have a previously scheduled Court hearing, it's likely that this will now be conducted by telephone or video conference instead of in person.
If this is the case, the Court should notify Your Family Law Solicitor in advance of the hearing date and provide the relevant details. If the hearing date is drawing near and your Solicitor had not received confirmation from the court, they will need to get in contact with the Court.
If you are being represented by Co-op Legal Services in a Family Law matter, your Case Manager will contact the Court on your behalf. Once the Court has confirmed whether they are happy to proceed with the hearing by telephone or video conference, we will pass these details on to you. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your Court hearing, don't hesitate to contact your Case Manager.
If Your Court Hearing Has Not Yet Been Scheduled
If you have made an application to the Court but are still awaiting a hearing date to be scheduled, you may experience a delay. The Courts are still scheduling in new hearings, but this is taking longer than usual in some areas because the Courts are working at a reduced capacity.
Usually, the Court would list a hearing date within 3 months of receiving an application. At the moment, some hearings are not being listed until after this 3 month time period has lapsed.
The Courts will always prioritise urgent cases, particularly those where a child or adult is deemed to be at risk. Less urgent matters could be pushed back as a result, so it's wise to be prepared for this eventuality.
How to Ensure Your Remote Court Hearing Goes Smoothly
Court hearings can be daunting for many reasons, and a remote Court hearing is no different. Add to this the potential of technical glitches and the situation can become more stressful. For this reason, it's really important to make sure you're as relaxed and prepared as possible. We recommend that you take steps to minimise the risk of any unexpected glitches during the hearing and that you allow yourself plenty of time to get yourself set up in a suitable and comfortable environment..
1. Reduce the Risk of Technical Glitches
The Court will email you ahead of the hearing with a web link to use to join the video conference. In advance of the hearing, you'll need to download the video conferencing software used by HM Courts & Tribunals Service, which is Skype for Business. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to do this. The Court will send you a guide on how to do so.
You'll also need to ensure that you have a strong and reliable internet connection to reduce the risk of you being cut off during the hearing. You may want to run a test call with some friends or family members so that you can get used to the software and check that everything is running smoothly.
2. Make Yourself Comfortable
You may already be used to your home now doubling up as your workplace, your children's school and even your gym. But now it needs to become a Court room as well.
It's important that you have somewhere comfortable, private, quiet and without distractions for you to participate in the hearing. Regardless of your physical location, the gravity of the situation remains unchanged and it's important that you're in the right frame of mind for the hearing. If other people will be at home with you at the time, ensure that they know not to disturb you. This can be particularly challenging if you have young children, so make childcare preparations in advance if this is the case.
As well as preparing a suitable environment, it's also important to dress appropriately (particularly if you're on video). Wearing the appropriate clothing can also help to get into the right frame of mind.
The HM Courts & Tribunal Service advise participants to be ready for the hearing at least 15 minutes before it's due to begin, which should help you to stay relaxed and give you time to prepare yourself. If you've not used the software before or if you have any concerns then you might want to allow more time than this.
Speak to Your Family Law Solicitor
As always, if you have any questions or concerns then it's important to discuss these with your Family Solicitor as soon as possible. Other than the mode of communication and the physical location of those involved, nothing else about your hearing will have changed.
You'll need to prepare for your hearing in exactly the same way as you would if you were attending Court, and your Solicitor will be on hand to provide representation and advice throughout the hearing in the same way as if you were both attending in person.