WIFL 10 tips for managing court hearings and attending court during COVID-19.
Jess Purchase is a family barrister specialising in private and public children law at The 36 Group. Here, she gives Women in Family Law her top 10 tips for managing court hearings and attending court during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Do not attend court in person
There’s a lockdown for a reason. Unless the matter is genuinely urgent, absolutely cannot be done remotely and can be carried out safely, stay at home.
If you DO have a genuinely urgent matter that has to be done in person then stay 2 metres (6 ft or – for those who were wondering – about 7 hedgehogs) away from other people, wash your hands as often as possible and take a pack of disinfectant wipes with you for wiping down unavoidable surfaces.
2. Rely on Government guidance
Jess Purchase of The 36 GroupYou’ll have heard it many times, but it bears repeating – only go outside for food, health reasons, or if you cannot work from home. If anybody is trying to push you into attending court, start with this.
3. Follow up the government advice with the President’s guidance
Back up the government guidance with the National Guidance for the Family Court issued on 19th March 2020 by Sir Andrew McFarlane.
The default position is for all Family Court hearings to be undertaken remotely. If the case cannot be listed remotely then the listing should be adjourned and relisted for a remote directions hearing.
Where a case is genuinely urgent, and it is not possible to conduct a remote hearing and pressing issues need to be determined, a face-to-face hearing will need to be conducted but in a way that minimises the opportunity for infection.
4.For any lingering doubt, fall back on the most recent version of MacDonald J’s guidance
While you’re emailing people copies of the President’s guidance, include a copy of ‘The Remote Access Family Court: Version 2′ by MacDonald J. It reinforces all of the guidance from the President and gives clear, detailed information on how remote hearings can and should be conducted.
5. Communicate! With your clerks, your solicitor and the other side
Touch base with your solicitor to find out whether they’ve spoken to the other side and reached agreement on whether to adjourn or press ahead with a remote hearing. See if there are any matters that can be narrowed or agreed before the hearing even happens. Make sure you keep your clerks up to date about everything, including if you are feeling pressured to attend court when you shouldn’t be.
On the day of the hearing, simulate your normal pre-hearing discussions from the comfort of your own home office (or kitchen table, sofa, back seat of the car…). Have a telephone conference with your client to take their instructions and a separate telephone call with your opponent. Repeat as many times as time allows and call your client again after the hearing for a debrief.
6. Email the Judge
It has been mentioned by a number of junior juniors that they have still been told by solicitors and opponents that parties are refusing to agree to either an adjournment or remote hearing, and that they must attend court even when the matter is not urgent and they have provided all of the above information and guidance. If this happens, email the Judge and set out your concerns about the hearing going ahead.
7. Don’t panic about platforms
Skype, Skype for Business, Zoom, Teams, Lifesize – the number of potential remote hearing platforms is both broad and intimidating! Unfortunately, there is no perfect one-size-fits-all platform. MacDonald J has very helpfully gone through each of the primary ones in “The Remote Access Family Court”. The main message to calm the panic is that if the court is setting up the hearing, you will be sent an invite/receive a phone call and will not have to download anything new or create any accounts.
8. Set up a space
Ideally this will be in a home office, but the challenges of sharing home working space with housemates/partners/children may force you to be slightly creative. Wherever you choose, make sure that it’s private, as quiet as possible and has good signal or internet connection.
9. Invest in some headphones with a microphone
Perfect for making sure you have both hands free for typing/writing and also make it much easier to hear everything that is said. There’s no need to buy anything fancy – the cheap and cheerful ones that plug into a headphone jack on a phone or computer are just as good for this as the fancy Bluetooth ones.
10. Seriously – do not attend court in person
Stay at home and stay well.
We hope that you found these tips useful. Please take a look at some of other posts in the series.