Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (14) – Family Justice

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As with all parts of the English Legal system, the family justice system has had to cope with the effects of Covid-19. A new report from the Nuffield Justice Family Justice Observatory takes a fresh look at how the system has been coping – in particular with the use of remote (where both parties are not in court) and hybrid (where one party is in court) hearings. It is based on a survey of 1300 people involved in family law cases, undertaken in September 2020. It is a follow-up to their first snapshot survey undertaken in April 2020. (see https://martinpartington.com/2020/07/07/covid-19-and-the-english-legal-system-10-family-justice/)

This second survey and accompanying report shows that “most professionals (86%) felt that things were working more smoothly and some reported benefits to working remotely, for both parties and themselves.” However, “[t]hey shared concerns about the difficulties of being sufficiently empathetic, supportive and attuned to lay parties when conducting hearings remotely’. Nonetheless “more than three quarters (78%) felt that fairness and justice had been achieved in the cases they were involved with most or all of the time”.

When it came to how parents and relatives themselves felt. “a majority… (88%) reported having concerns about the way their case was dealt with, and two thirds (66%) felt that their case had not been dealt with well. Two in five (40%) said they had not understood what had happened during the hearing”.

As might be anticipated, there were complaints about problems with connectivity. And there was a feeling that for remote hearings telephone links were not as satisfactory as video links.

The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew Macfarlane has welcomed the report and undertaken to ensure that the issues raised are addressed.

One specific point made by the Nuffield authors is that they do not expect any early change to practices currently in use to deal with the implications of Covid 19. Because of the urgency of many of the issues which which the family court has to deal, it is essential that all those involved continue to work to improve what is currently happening. Of course, the longer this goes on, the more evidence can be obtained about what works well in the new system as well as what does not work well. I am sure that, after Covid-19, the system as a whole will not return to its pre-pandemic state.

The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory Report and Consultation are at https://www.nuffieldfjo.org.uk/resource/remote-hearings-september-2020.

Sir Andrew Macfalane’s comments are at: https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/remote-hearings-in-the-family-justice-system-follow-up-consultation-report/

Written by lwtmp

November 1, 2020 at 11:31 am

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