Certain family proceedings should not be conducted remotely said the President of the Family Division after intervening in a case involving a young girl living ‘in limbo.’
Proceedings in the case of Re P (A Child: Remote Hearing) began a year ago. The Local Authority said the girl suffered significant harm as a result of induced or fabricated illness. The mother contests the issues. A 15 day hearing was scheduled for this week to fix a final care plan for the child, who has been living with the mother’s friend under an interim care order.
The Local Authority argued that the hearing could be conducted remotely because the case was ready , the mother was aware of all of the issues and the girl was suffering significant emotional harm being held in limbo. Solicitors for the mother, who had contracted Covid19, said a remote hearing would not be fair or just.
McFarlane said it was impossible to contemplate conducting a final hearing remotely where, at issue, were allegations of fictitious illness.
He went on to say that ‘any Judge who undertakes such a hearing may well be able to cope with the cross-examination and the assimilation of the detailed evidence from the e-bundle and from the process of witnesses appearing over Skype, but that is only part of the judicial function. The more important part, as I have indicated, is for the judge to see all the parties in the case when they are in the courtroom, in particular the mother, and although it is possible over Skype to keep the postage stamp image of any particular attendee at the hearing , up to five in all, live on the judge’s screen at any one time, it is a very poor substitute to seeing that person fully present before the Court.’
He went on to say that the Judge must be able to experience the behaviour of the parent who is the focus of the allegations ‘not only when they are in the witness box being examined -in-chief and cross-examined, but equally when they are sitting in the well of the court and reacting, as they may or may not do so, to the factual and expert evidence as it unfolds.’
Establishing that a hearing can be conducted remotely, does not in any way mean that the hearing must be conducted in that way.
The hearing on this occasion was vacated and relisted for a date after lockdown ends.
However, our experience at RJT Solicitors amid the covid19 restrictions, is that for hearings other than final hearings, the Courts are trying to deal with these remotely, often by telephone and/or Skype. However, each case is very much considered on its own facts and is open to change on a daily basis during these unprecedented times.
If you have any queries regarding any family hearings do not hesitate to contact us on 01257 228027 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.