The President of the Family Division has published national guidance on Covid-19 that should be followed with immediate effect by all levels of the Family Court and the High Court Family Division.
Sir Andrew McFarlane said the aim of the guidance, which can be viewed here, was to “keep business going safely”.
The President said: “There is a strong public interest in the Family Justice System continuing to function as normally as possible despite the present pandemic. At the same time, in accordance with government guidance, there is a need for all reasonable and sensible precautions to be taken to prevent infection and, in particular, to avoid non-essential personal contact.
“The government guidance is, however, 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.
“Taking these competing factors together, 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 guidance covers:
- The Rules
- Remote hearings
- Urgent cases
- Remote hearings: technical matters
In a final observation Sir Andrew said: “These are exceptional and unprecedented times. The situation both nationally and in each locality is changing daily, if not hourly. I am well aware of the intensely difficult and highly stressful circumstances that all those working in the Family Justice System are currently experiencing and I am greatly appreciative of their commitment to the continued delivery of justice in circumstances which, only a week or so ago, would have been considered unimaginable.
“This Guidance is intended to deliver a very significant change of direction in the method of working within the Family Court, whilst at the same time enabling us to continue to operate and to meet the pressing needs of those who turn to the court for protection and justice.”