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Remote court parties heard ‘sobbing down phone’

26 Jul 2021 / family law Print

Remote-court parties heard ‘sobbing down phone’

A mother involved in contentious family proceedings was angry to see family lawyers tweet about the benefits of remote hearings, the Law Society Gazette of England and Wales has reported.

The mother’s position emerged from a large-scale poll of court users, commissioned by the president of the UK courts’ Family Division.

Most parents (73%) said that they did not feel supported during their remote hearing.

Just under half did not have legal representation, and others raised concerns about not being present at a hearing with their lawyers, and the difficulties communicating with them as a result.

Tweets annoy mother

Nuffield Family Justice Observatory had 3,200 people, including 173 parents, respond to a rapid consultation on remote hearings in the family court post-pandemic.

The mother said: “I have read tweets from family lawyers saying remote hearings are so much better because they don’t have to travel as much, and they have a better work/life balance… I rather take exception to these tweets as a person going through possibly the worst situation of my life dealing with a contentious divorce and child proceedings who needs the family law to resolve our situation.

“I appreciate that all lawyers work hard but there should be some recognition that remote hearings can be challenging for the lay client,” she said.

Case-by-case basis

Most lawyer respondents saw a continuing role for certain types of remote hearings, but many felt the decision should be made on a case-by-case basis, weighing up the views of vulnerable parties, complexity of the case, and technology access.

Judges and magistrates were the least keen on remote hearings when evidence was being heard.

“It is too hard to manage the parties in sensitive hearings. We have all had parties sobbing down the phone/live link when you know their children are in the next room,” one magistrate said.

The Association of Lawyers for Children said fact-finding and final hearings should be conducted in person.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland