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When the nation went into lockdown over a year ago, remote hearings quickly became the convenient and common-place solution to the problem of attending Family Court hearings, without actually attending the Court in person, and it looks like they are here to stay.
With the country moving slowly to a semblance of normality, shops and pubs have reopened, and so have the Courts. But the indications seem to suggest that some family hearings will continue to be held remotely. Primarily, these are likely to be hearings that:
- Are short in length
- Are procedural and not substantive
- Do not involve the giving of evidence
These remote hearings have become just a part of the job for family lawyers and Judges, many of whom prefer the new technology, for its speed and efficiency as compared with in person hearings. Having said this, many clients will never have come across a remote hearing before and will not know what to expect. For this reason, and since it seems as though they are likely to become a permanent fixture of our justice system, we have put together some dos and don’ts of remote hearings:
- Make sure the room you are in is quiet and private.
- Do not record the hearing as it is a criminal offence to do so.
- Dress appropriately (as if you were attending Court in person).
- Do not smoke.
- Familiarise yourself with Microsoft Teams in advance of the hearing (or any other platform which is being used for the hearing). For example, ensure that you are able to mute yourself as it is quite possible you will be asked to do so.
- If you have been provided with an electronic bundle make sure that you are able to access it during the hearing. This is especially important if you are required to give evidence during the hearing.
- Make sure that your mobile phone is on silent.
- Keep any pets under control and do not allow them into the room during the hearing
- If you are expecting any deliveries make provision for these to be dealt with without you being required to assist.
- If you do need to have a drink this should be limited to a glass of water.
- Ensure your screen background is appropriate, and if necessary, change or blur the background (this is something you can do in Microsoft Teams).
- Discuss with your solicitor or barrister in advance how you will communicate with them privately during the hearing should this be necessary. Some lawyers set up WhatsApp groups for their hearings, others use email. In some cases, it may be best for you to come into your solicitor’s office.