Law Society continues to back remote hearings in family cases, but expresses concern about their use in more complex cases

The Law Society has said that, as the rate of COVID-19 infections continues to increase across England and Wales and the safety implications connected with conducting face to face hearings remain significant, it still believes proceeding with remote hearings is “usually better than delaying them”.

Chancery Lane’s comments came in its submission to the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory’s (NFJO) latest rapid consultation on remote and hybrid hearings in the family justice system.

It said, however, that decisions needed to be made on a case-by-case basis, weighing the importance and urgency of the issue against the suitability of proceeding remotely. “This must take into account the nature of the hearing and any vulnerabilities of the parties.”

The Law Society said that in usual circumstances, it did not believe that remote hearings would be suitable across the board and the same principle applied in the current pandemic.

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“Remote hearings, whether via telephone or video, can work well in straightforward cases. These may include simple procedural hearings, directions hearings and case management hearings. However, we have particular concerns regarding the use of remote hearings in more complex cases, especially those involving unrepresented litigants and those involving vulnerable people,” it said.

“Consideration should be given to the parties’ views on whether the hearings should proceed remotely, and whether they feel that justice can be served in this way for their particular case.”

Chancery Lane added: “During an emergency situation, it's only right that certain concessions are made in order to allow the wheels of justice to keep turning. This is particularly pertinent since the existing case backlogs in the family justice system have increased.”

The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory’s consultation closed on 30 September.

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