A ‘rapid consultation’ into the effectiveness of remote hearings in the family courts has been published by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.
Remote hearings via video conferencing software or telephone became the default after social distancing measures began in March.
Over 1,000 respondents submitted their views and experiences over two weeks in April, including legal and social work professionals, parents and carers.
Many said they were concerned about the fairness of remote hearings. Amongst the issues cited were maintaining privacy, the absence of facial expressions and body language during audio hearings, and potential disadvantage to people with disabilities or who need an interpreter during hearings.
Nevertheless, around half the respondents gave remote hearings a positive rating and accepted that they can function well. Some suggested that remote hearings continue in some circumstances once the current restrictions are lifted.
Most remote hearings to date have been conducted via telephone, but the majority of respondents to the report said they thought video was the most effective medium. Some worried about lack of access to appropriate technology or training and continuing uncertainties over responsibility for the administration of remote hearings.
Sir Andrew McFarlane is President of the Family Division of the High Court. He requested the research last month and welcomed publication of the report.
The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory is a subsidiary of research organisation the Nuffield Foundation, specialising in research into the effectiveness of the family courts.
The full report is available here.
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