A study published this week by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory has shed some light on the challenges faced by families and professionals when it comes to remote hearings.
Family law in particular requires an empathetic, human approach. We sat down with our Head of Family Law, Steven Gasser, to hear his insight into the findings, and what the Laurus team are doing to make remote hearings more comfortable for our clients.
The report focused on the delivery of family justice via remote hearings. The remote format incorporates social distancing measures by allowing hearings to take place fully remotely, via telephone or common video platforms (CVP) or with some parties appearing in person. Steven and the team have been working with fully remote and ‘hybrid’ hearings since lockdown began.
“Generally speaking, we’ve had a positive experience with remote hearings, in that they’ve realigned the system, and made the process much more efficient.” He says. “However, one significant downside is the fact that we’re not with our clients during those hearings, and it’s hard to gauge their feelings and emotions as the hearing progresses, which is a big part of what solicitors do.”
Providing remote support
Steven’s feelings are echoed in the report, which finds that parents and family members felt their case had not been dealt with well – 88% of those interviewed by the Family Justice Observatory had worries or concerns over the outcome. While the professionals involved in remote hearings will always strive to ensure the outcome is fair, the experience of listening to your case over the telephone or on a small screen would certainly make clients feel less involved and less empathised with.
One way to address this key issue is hybrid hearings, Steven tells us. “We’ve now done a hybrid hearing, where Ingrid (Starcic, Associate) and I sat with a client at the Watford office for a remote hearing. This was undoubtedly the best thing, as we could support the client properly during the hearing. Over the phone, you don’t get a sense of body language, and there’s so much more to the dynamic that we miss out on when we’re not in court with our clients.”
Addressing concerns of fairness
The concerns raised in the report that remote hearings may sometimes not be fair or just are also top of mind for Steven and the team, as securing a fair outcome for clients will always be a top priority. 21.5% of respondents to the FJO survey felt that cases were only fair some of the time, or not at all.
“I’ve got quite a strong opinion on this – I’ve recently conducted a final hearing remotely. When you get to the point in the procedure where parties are giving evidence, a case will often turn on credibility. For someone sat giving evidence in their living room, it’s a far more relaxing environment than live in front of a judge. This dilutes the impact of raising credibility at all, because they’re giving evidence in a far more comforting environment.”
Fears over technology
In terms of technological issues, the team are thankful that they were set up to take remote instructions well in advance of Covid-19.
“The biggest challenges we’ve faced in terms of technology is losing signal on the phone in hearings – we once lost half an hour where I was having to dial in and dial out and everyone was very frustrated. Generally speaking, the CVP (common video platforms) are much more effective.”
“I can totally understand why clients feel apprehensive about remote hearings, but we’re always available to help them navigate the technology involved if the need arises.”
Prioritising client care
Because of the challenges in remote hearings for clients and legal professionals alike, Steven and the team have honed in on their capacity for out of court resolution to better support their clients.
“Fundamentally, I think this points to the greater use of ADR. Arbitration and Private FDR are definitely much better in terms of flexibility and a more comforting environment for clients. They’re less rushed. It’s just one hearing on a platform agreed by everyone far in advance, and we can sit in the barristers’ chambers – socially distanced but in person.”
While the report has outlined a number of improvements to be made, many professionals feel that remote hearings are a positive – especially at a time where travelling and appearing in person may be a health risk. At Laurus, we focus on client care as a top priority, and our expert team can come up with a plan tailored to your individual circumstances. However you feel comfortable going forward, our team has the experience to support you through a number of paths to a resolution.
If you would like to know more about how our team can support you during a remote hearing, or to find out more about alternative methods to resolve your dispute, please do not hesitate to contact our Family law team on 020 3146 6300 or email us email@example.com.
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