Family courts and COVID-19

The coronavirus crisis and social distancing pose immediate challenges to the family courts’ ways of working. 

Rapid consultation: the use of remote hearings in the family justice system

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the introduction of social distancing measures, the family courts in England and Wales have rapidly adapted to using telephone and video hearings. In light of this significant change, the President of the Family Division asked the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory to undertake a rapid consultation on the use of remote hearings in the family court.

The consultation ran for a two-week period from 14 to 28 April 2020 and well over 1,000 people responded. Our subsequent report provides an overview of the consultation responses.

Remote hearings in the family justice system: September 2020 follow-up consultation

A follow up consultation process was undertaken between 10 and 30 September 2020. 1,306 respondents completed a survey, several organisations submitted additional information, and focus groups and interviews were undertaken with parents.

Child protection conferences are a key stage of the child protection system in England and Wales, where professionals come together to identify and address serious concerns about child abuse and neglect that have led them to believe a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm. All parents and persons with parental responsibility as well as family members involved with the child must be invited to conferences unless there is a good reason to exclude. Although unusual the child may be invited to attend, depending on their level of understanding.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdown measures, professionals and families have had to rapidly adapt to remote or socially-distanced conferences. This research, which comprised an online survey and series of telephone interviews with family members and professionals between September and October 2020, investigates what these changes have meant in practice and offers points for reflection.

Remote hearings in court systems around the world

We have drawn together information on the use of remote hearings in court systems around the world (where information on the use of such systems is publicly available), to create the snapshot below.

How many remote hearings took place in the UK between March-April 2020?

The use of audio and video technology in hearings has increased during the coronavirus outbreak.These figures, reported by individual courts and tribunals (not just family courts), provide an indicative estimate of the number of hearings that have taken place using audio and video since 19 March 2020.

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