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 the two-week period between 23 March and 6 April 2020 audio hearings across all courts and tribunals in England and Wales (not only in family courts) increased by over 500%, and video hearings by 340%.
In light of this significant change, the President of the Family Division asked the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (Nuffield FJO) to undertake a rapid consultation on the use of remote hearings in the family court.
The consultation sought feedback from parents and carers and all professionals in the family justice system including judges, magistrates, barristers, solicitors, Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) advisers, court staff and social workers. Those who had had experience of a remote hearing (a hearing conducted by telephone, Skype or other remote platform) and/or those with expertise or other relevant experience were invited to respond.
The consultation ran for a two-week period from 14 to 28 April 2020 and well over 1,000 people responded. This report provides an overview of the consultation responses.
Mary Ryan is an associate of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.
Lisa Harker is Director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.
Sarah Rothera is an independent consultant.