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The Road Ahead – Updated Summary

The Road Ahead which was published in June 2020 offered guidance to lay persons and legal representatives at a time when there was significant unknown in light of the coronavirus pandemic. At the time of publication, the first lockdown was upon us and the majority of people found themselves in a situation that they had never been in before.

Despite the uncertainty, the guidance was clear in that Family Courts would continue to operate albeit they would adapt and operate differently to what was previously considered the norm.

The Road Ahead 2021 reinforces that the Guidance issued in June 2020 still applies. There have however been some developments since the first lockdown and the guidance has been adapted to reflect the current situation. The main messages that flow from the updated advice are as follows:-

The default position of the Courts will be to facilitate the remote attendance of all or some of those involved in hearings. There is therefore an urgent need to review all of those cases where in-person or hybrid hearings are due to take place. Early communication with the Court as to any issue with the format of an upcoming hearing should take place as soon as possible.

All cases need to be dealt with proportionately, the welfare issues in a children’s case should be identified in order to allow an appropriate share of the court’s resources to be allotted to the case and to ensure that all parties are on an equal footing.

The guidance also encourages all professionals, court staff, and members of the judiciary to keep a keen eye upon the engagement of lay parties even when they are legally represented. Lay parties need to be observed to ensure that they are connected with the Court process not just in a technical sense but also that they are following what is occurring during the hearing.

Since the publication of the last guidance the court’s technology has improved and video platforms are now widely available and supported at all levels of the Family Court. Where a remote hearing is due to take place, the default should be a video hearing. Audio-only hearings should only be used when there is some pressing reason for not using a video platform. If an audio hearing does take place, then all parties should be extra vigilant to ensure that any lay parties are engaged with the court process. This approach applies to both children cases and to financial remedy cases.

As a result of remote working the working day now takes place outside of the confines of a normal working day and it is concerning as to the impact this is having upon individual and collective wellbeing. The normal operating of the Family Courts are 10:00 am to 16:30 pm with an adequate lunch adjournment. Sitting outside of these hours should be seen as an exceptional occurrence and not the norm and should be limited to no more than a 30-minute extension to the Court day.

Anyone that is required to attend the Family Court in person will be expected to wear a mask. Only the Judge, an advocate addressing the Court, or a witness giving evidence will be permitted to remove their mask.  The new strain of Covid 19 is easily transmitted and therefore all court users need to be extra vigilant when ensuring that all required precautions are followed.

The closing message of The Road Ahead 2021 is that we will get there. There are now a number of vaccines being deployed and whilst this is a game-changer, a move away from the restricted way of working is still some months away, the ‘can do’ approach of the Family Court needs to prevail and will see us through to the end.

Kylie Peach


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