The president of the family division is seeking feedback from solicitors who have been involved in remote hearings during the coronavirus outbreak in order to issue evidence-based guidance next month.

Sir Andrew McFarlane today opened a two-week ‘rapid’ consultation which is being carried out by the Nuffield Foundation Family Justice Observatory, which focuses on filling data gaps to improve understanding of the family justice system.

Evidence is sought from solicitors, barristers, Cafcass workers, court staff, social workers and magistrates on public and private Children Act cases. The FJO will also meet to discuss issues over the next fortnight, and draw together findings from existing relevant research.

The consultation asks eight questions. These cover details of the hearing type, what factors worked well, concerns, potential improvements, and feedback from clients or third parties.

McFarlane signalled a ‘significant change in direction’ in national guidance issued last month, shortly after the prime minister introduced tougher measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. That guidance stated that while all family court hearings should be conducted remotely via email, phone, video or Skype, court-based hearings should take place ‘where the requirements of fairness and justice’ require it, and it is safe to do so.

Emma Dewhurst, a family associate at Manchester firm Hall Brown, spoke to the Gazette about how ‘teething problems’ were overcome in a two-day contested hearing conducted over Skype.

The consultation ends on 28 April.


*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.