20 March 2020
PLP Family Team COVID-19 and our approach to the crisis.
First of all the PLP Family Team hope that those of you reading this, and your families, are well and stay well. As the President of the Family Division said in the National Guidance handed down yesterday, these are exceptional and unprecedented times. We will outline key parts of the Guidance and what we can do to assist you. PLP Family Team and how we can help. We remain committed to offering an excellent service to clients and solicitors in a challenging time. Many members of our team are still able to attend in person hearings where such remain listed. Members of the PLP team have been proactive in liaising directly with the local judiciary in relation to development of local practices in relation to remote hearings. We anticipate some local guidance being provided from the judiciary in relation to the use of Skype for Business (see below – the suggested preferred method for video hearings). Our team is ready to use Skype for Business for remote hearings. For conferences, meetings, private hearings and arbitration we have a variety of services to suit any specific requirements. We can offer: a) Skype for business; b) Microsoft Teams. We are aware that many of our instructing solicitors also have this package; c) Both our Leeds and Newcastle offices are equipped with full video conferencing facilities to allow for remote hearings and virtual meeting rooms. We can easily facilitate virtual meetings across the globe without the need for other users to have any specific software. We have also looked at the use of Zoom as an alternative should any solicitor wish to use this instead. Our members remain readily available to review cases and advise (now might be a good time to deal with that case that keeps going to the bottom of your to-do list?), draft pleadings and thresholds, advise in writing and by phone. We continue to offer direct access. Please contact our clerk firstname.lastname@example.org who has been working stoically throughout and who can assist you in relation to any of the above. New Guidance for the Family Court The Covid-19 National Guidance for the Family Court is intended to address the immediate difficulties faced by court users in the current crisis. It endeavours to strike a balance, by avoiding face to face contact where possible whilst still ensuring that the family justice system continues to deal with cases, even if to a lesser degree and with a focus on shorter and more urgent hearings, it can be viewed here. As the President states, the Guidance “is intended to deliver a very significant change of direction in the method of working within the Family Court…”. Looking at silver linings, albeit difficult in the current situation, family lawyers and judges will emerge from this crisis with greater openness to, and familiarity with, the use of technology to facilitate family justice. Changes in professional working practices and habits, enforced on us by the pandemic, may be long lasting. The following is a summary of the key developments brought by the Guidance. Will there be any hearings with physical attendance? The Guidance does not completely rule out face to face hearings. The Guidance observes that the government guidance is primarily aimed at the social setting, rather than the business/work environment, “Depending on the circumstances there may be the need, and no harm involved, in having a number of people present in court for an oral hearing.” Further it is stated “…whilst the default position should be that, for the time being, all Family Court hearings should be undertaken remotely either via email, telephone, video or Skype, etc [‘remote hearing’], where the requirements of fairness and justice require a court-based hearing, and it is safe to conduct one, then a court-based hearing should take place.” The possibility of some urgent hearings being in persons is contemplated (see below). What type of family hearing may be conducted remotely? The Guidance explains that determination of whether or not a remote hearing is to take place will not turn on the estimated length of the hearing, but upon other case specific factors. The following categories of hearing are suitable for remote hearing:
- All directions and case management hearings;
- Public Law Children:
- Emergency Protection Orders
- Interim Care Orders
- Issue Resolution Hearings
- Private Law Children:
- First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointments
- Dispute Resolution Appointments
- Other interim hearings
- Simple short contested cases
- Injunction applications where there is no evidence that is to be heard (or only limited evidence).
- Financial Cases [see the guidance issued for the Financial Remedies Court by Mostyn J on 17th March at Appendix B to the President’s Guidance].
- Other hearings as directed by the judge concerned.
- By way of an email exchange between the court and the parties;
- By way of telephone using conference calling facilities;
- By way of the court’s video-link system, if available;
- The use of the Skype for Business App installed on judicial laptops;
- Any other appropriate means of remote communication, for example BT MeetMe or FaceTime.”
- The local authority in a public law case;
- The applicant, if legally represented, in a private law case;
- The respondent, if legally represented and where the applicant is not, in a private law case;
- The court where no party is legally represented.
- On the day before a remote hearing the applicant must electronically file a PDF bundle which complies with FPR PD27A, and which in any event must include as a minimum:
- A case summary and chronology;
- The parties’ positions statements;
- The previous orders that are relevant to the remote hearing;
- All essential documents that the court requires to determine the issues that fall for determination at the remote hearing;
- A draft order;
- Completed advocates’ forms together with the single address that the signed and sealed forms are to be returned to for distribution to the advocates.