Remote working will become the norm in the civil and family courts, the lord chief justice said in his latest update on the coronavirus crisis today. 'The rules in both the civil and family courts are flexible enough to enable telephone and video hearings of almost everything,' Lord Burnett of Maldon told the judiciary. 'Any legal impediments will be dealt with.'

Lord Burnett said yesterday’s announcement that schools will be closing three weeks early coupled with the need for those over 70 and with health problems to stay at home 'will have an immediate impact on the ability and willingness of people to attend courts and tribunals'.

In response, he said HM Courts & Tribunals Service is working urgently on expanding the availability of technology but in the meantime we have phones, some video facilities and Skype. 'User information on Skype is on the intranet and otherwise widely available. Further work is being done is being done in connection with the criminal courts.'

His message came a day after the opening of the first court hearing in England and Wales to be conducted entirely on Skype. 

'The default position now in all jurisdictions must be that hearings should be conducted with one, more than one or all participants attending remotely,' Lord Burnett said. Acknowledging that this will not always be possible, he said 'Sensible precautions should be taken when people attend a hearing.'

Indicating that remote working will be less feasible for criminal proceedings, he said: 'Particular problems are likely to be encountered in both the magistrates’ courts and the Crown courts to which careful thought is being given.'


*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.

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