This guidance was issued with the approval of the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior Presiding Judge and is intended to be followed with immediate effect.
Whilst it is very much in the public interest for the Family Justice System to continue to function as normal through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the courts need to pay heed to the government guidance that we are certainly all becoming very familiar with.
For the time being, all Family Court hearings should be taken remotely (eg via email, telephone, Skype, etc.). However, where the requirements of fairness and justice necessitate a court-based hearing, and it is safe for the parties to attend, then a court based hearing should take place.
McFarlane's guidance addresses how to facilitate remote hearings.
It is considered that all direction and case management hearings, appeals, financial cases, and select public law and private law children cases are suitable for remote hearings. That said, given that the situation is changing so rapidly, whether a case is suitable for a remote hearing will need to be considered on a case by case basis.
Where a case cannot be listed for a remote hearing, the advice is that any existing listing should be adjourned and the matter listed for a directions hearing as quickly as possible.
These are unprecedented times and our approach to how we deal with this situation is likely to evolve overtime. Litigation is already incredibly stressful and we all appreciate that the added uncertainty it going to add to this. So far as possible, we all need to be as flexible as we can to ensure that we are doing all we can to keep the system working as efficiently as possible.