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Remote Court Hearings during COVID 19 pandemic – part 2- what should I do?

Remote Hearings-the important part: what should I do

  1. Remote Hearings

During this pandemic crisis, all effective hearing, with the court’s permission are to be held remotely either by telephone phone or video conferencing. No formal application for a remote hearing is required.

  1. Prior to the Hearing: Be prepared

If you are involved in a case where a court hearing is listed  do the following in advance of the hearing date:

1.1       Attendance by you at court, now means your participation in the remote hearing, whether by telephone or video facilities.

Judges/Magistrates will require parties to be proactive and for the hearings to be focused on the realistic options. This will require a lot more preparation by the Local Authority (as applicants) in advance of the hearing. As the social worker, it will be extremely beneficial to provide all updating information to the Local Authority solicitor prior to the hearing. As in the event that matters can be agreed prior to the hearing between the parties,  it could result in proposed agreed directions or a draft consent order and thereby possibly avoid the need for a remote hearing.

1.2       The court will endeavour to hear cases on the listed hearing dates however, that is only if appropriate arrangements can be made for a remote hearing to be effective. Times will be clearly stipulated nearer to the date of the hearing.

If arrangements cannot be made in time, then it is likely that there will be short adjournment for arrangements to be made.

1.3       Nearer to the hearing date, confirm the hearing is going ahead, time slot allocated and how you are to engage in the remote hearing:

  • If you work for the Local Authority, contact the Local Authority solicitor to confirm the hearing is still effective and you will be provided details of the remote hearing.
  • If the Local Authority is not involved, then contact one of the parties’ solicitor who will be able to assist.
  • If there are no solicitors involved, then the court should be contacted.
  • Parents, family members or vulnerable adults should be encouraged to seek independent legal representation so that they can be supported through this process.  Local specialist solicitors can be found at https://solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk

1.4 Have your technical equipment ready prior to the start time for the hearing.

          2.  During the hearing:

2.1. Maintain confidentiality.

Remote family and court of protection cases are to remain confidential. So when involved in a remote hearing ensure you are able to attend the hearing by telephone or video in a private place, where you will not be overheard by others.

The risk that parents or family members may make a recording of the hearing is recognised byS.55 and schedule 25 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 and makes it an offence to:

a) to record a live link or make an image or a sound taken from a live link or transmit material gained through participation in a live link

(b) to record a broadcast from a court directed for the purposes of enabling the public to see and hear proceedings.

The schedule makes it an offence to use material even if it is obtained outside of the case that is through hacking a link.

2.2 Maintain court etiquette

In advance of the hearing be aware of your physical environment from where you will be during the whole of the hearing. Background noises should be avoided, if possible, or kept to a minimum. Remember irrespective of your (domestic) location, you are participating in a (remote) court hearing. So dress and act professional (if the heart is by video link) and speak clearly at all times.

3.3. Taking the Oath/Affirmation

If you are going to give evidence as a witness, unless a member of the court staff is also remotely linked, it is likely that the Judge will administer the oath or take the affirmation. Mostyn J in the Court of Protection case used a short form in his case and asked witnesses “do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”

You will not be required to touch your Holy Book if you decide to take the Oath.

3.4     Electronic (E) Bundles

During this period the court is limiting the use of paper and is requiring the use of E bundles, so that court bundles are available to the Judge/Magistrates, lawyers, parties and witnesses online

3.5      Hearings are to be recorded.

The guidance requires that the hearings are to be recorded. This will enable a transcript to be produced later, if required.

Finally embrace the benefits of remote hearings:

  1. Hearings start on time (subject to the technology working)
  2. The hearings will tend to be shorter and focused
  3. No need to worry about traffic/parking issues
  4. No endless standing in corridors, balancing laptops whilst waiting to go into court.
  5. Acceptance for patience and understanding by all.

Arrangements may need to be regularly reviewed as issues arise and solutions are considered, there is therefore a need to be flexible and adaptable in the fast moving landscape we find ourselves. Ending with the positive advice from Lord Burnett of Maldon. Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, “any legal impediments will be dealt with.”

 

 

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