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Family Courts and Telephone Hearings

The BBC posted on its website this morning an article talking about how difficult it currently is interacting with the Family Courts and, in particular,  the dreaded telephone hearings. Unfortunately, the complaints set out in that blog are all too familiar to me and, I assume, any practising family lawyer.

When lockdown first happened the courts went into immediate shut down.  It took them some time to organise and re-open.  The court has been critically under-funded for many years now and that under-funding came home to roost during this pandemic as the court was unable, on a technological basis, to function.

There are no two ways around it, telephone hearings are awful.  People cannot hear each other – the Judge cannot hear what is going on – it is unclear as to who is speaking and how the proceedings are progressing.  It really is a very  poor alternative to what else is available.  This poor alternative is made even worse when you are talking about people’s lives in a very real sense.  How often their children see them, where do those children go to school, how are they to re-house and live post separation.  All these are highly intimate and personal details which do not fit at all comfortably with a disjointed telephone hearing.

The alternative is video hearings on Zoom/Teams/lifesize.  Video platforming  is far superior and almost completely able to replicate in person a court hearing.  Unfortunately, the massively under-funded courts infrastructure means that video hearings are not easy to arrange and the Justice Departments position is to reject them despite their practicality.

Though tricky to arrange – in my experience some Judges are quite happy to accept one parties’ solicitors providing a Zoom platform or another parties’ Barrister a life size platform – with the Judge using his/her own laptop in order to ensure that the hearing is effective.

Of course, there is an alternative.  Private arbitration can now deal with almost every aspect of the family law arena and can deal with it comfortable, privately, and on a video platform that enables parties to participate meaningfully and with understanding from the comfort of their own home.

So if you are currently engaged in the family law process and your solicitor warns you that a telephone hearing may be likely, do speak to your solicitor about the benefits of arbitration and see if the other party will also agree and facilitate a more satisfactory and effective way forward for you and your family.

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