Civil and family courts continue to operate but are following government guidance relating to home working and social distancing. The latest information from the courts is that, whilst some court buildings remain open, others have closed, but Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said on 23 March 2020, that this will be reviewed in light of the current coronavirus advice. The courts have advised us that they are considering the situation daily.
In his statement, COVID 19: National Guidance for the Family Court, President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice, Sir Andrew McFarlane, said: “There is a strong public interest in the family justice system continuing to function as normally as possible despite the present pandemic”. However, he confirmed that most family court hearings can be heard remotely, via telephone or video, such as Skype, and this should be the “default” position. He confirmed that a court-based hearing should only take place where absolutely necessary – “where the requirements of fairness and justice” dictate it – and only if arrangements can be put in place to ensure the safety of those involved. Documents should not be taken into court physically and will need to be sent electronically.
Acknowledging that “these are exceptional and unprecedented times”, Sir Andrew said that his guidance to those working in the family justice system delivers “a very significant change of direction in the method of working within the Family Court, whilst at the same time enabling us to continue to operate and to meet the pressing needs of those who turn to the court for protection and justice.”
Financial matters following divorce
If you are currently dealing with financial matters following divorce, your lawyer at Graysons will be able to use an accelerated, paper only system to deal with the first directions appointment (FDA), so there should be no need for you to attend court. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is encouraging financial dispute resolution (FDR) hearings to take place remotely and in private (this is where a solicitor, barrister or retired judge conducts the hearing rather than the court). Your lawyer can advise you on this.
Again, whilst judges are responsible for deciding on the method by which hearings should take place, they are being encouraged to arrange remote hearings wherever possible – whether this involves one, more than one or all participants involved – to avoid adjournments. If this is not possible in your case and you need to attend court, you will need to make ‘sensible’ arrangements for your safety and that of others present, according to government guidelines. Local court managers and judges will also consider safety arrangements required in court buildings.
A written request (email) must be made to the court to seek its permission to carry out a remote hearing. You will also need the agreement of the other party in the case. Contact your lawyer at Graysons if you need help with this. As with family cases, documents should not be lodged at court physically and should be emailed instead.
If you are a key worker, e.g. police, NHS, and you are needed elsewhere, courts will be sensitive to this and should offer advice.
Today (01.04.2020), HMCTS has released information on how matters heard in county courts will be prioritised. The priority list has been split into two groups. Cases that must be heard include injunctions, applications in cases listed for trial in the next three months, applications where there is a substantial hearing listed in the next month and multitrack hearings where parties agree that it is urgent. A second group of cases, as many of which will be heard as possible when the first priority cases have been completed, includes applications for interim payments in personal injury and medical negligence cases and all small claim/fast track trials where parties agree it is urgent.
How Graysons is working with you and the courts
If one of our staff is handling your case and you are due to attend court, we will contact you to discuss this. All of our staff are working from home. Whilst they are still using our sophisticated case management and IT systems, we ask that you are patient as on some occasions, a member of staff may need to attend the office to pick up physical files and we have strict arrangements in place for them to do so. Also, as barristers are no longer able to accept paper instructions, it may take time to scan and email any required documents. Our lawyers are working with the courts to help ensure that cases are dealt with as efficiently as possible.
If you are worried about your case or your potential attendance at court, contact us now. You can contact our staff on the direct telephone number or email address you already have or those given in their profiles, which you can find here.