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Law Society warns against remote hearings in public law children cases where parties have limited access to technology

Public law children cases where a party has limited access to technology or where parties require an intermediary or a translator are instances where remote hearings may not be the best format, the Law Society has warned.

In its response to the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory’s latest rapid consultation on remote hearings in the family justice system and the Court of Protection, Chancery Lane said that this was in the interest of upholding access to justice for all parties.

It added that its members had also reported that remote hearings were not always appropriate for final hearings, “particularly where there are complex issues at play or where cross-examination of lay witnesses is required”.

The Law Society acknowledged, however, that remote hearings had “certainly found their place” within the family justice system and Court of Protection, with many solicitors preferring them to in-person hearings.

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“We are hearing that they are more time and cost effective and have allowed for better work/life balance,” it said.

“These are all important consequences and must be considered in taking remote hearings forward. We anticipate that this will be the position for barristers and judges, as well.”

The Law Society said that overall, based on member feedback, it considered it appropriate that remote hearings could be the default for simple administrative hearings with minimal parties attending, but that other, more complex hearings should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Chancery Lane said it had also used this opportunity to put forward its views on the collection of data by HMCTS.

“This data, in particular, should capture the impact remote hearings have had on outcomes in cases and any impediments to access to justice. The court backlogs must also be considered in pressing forward with any plans to move out of the pandemic and the formulation of any strategies in implementing remote hearings long term.”

The results of the NFJO consultation will inform how the President of the Family Division sets out how to move forward with remote aspects of hearings.

The Law Society’s full response can be found here.

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