Safety measures for hearings in the family court and mental health hospitals

Read about the steps which have been introduced to safeguard judges, staff and panel members.

Family judges or lawyers do not usually wear formal wigs or robes and in fact lawyers have not been required to wear wigs or wing collars since 2007.

However, if you attend the Central Family Court from 15 April 2024, don’t be surprised to see judges in formal robes. This change is a result of a pilot, implemented following a number of incidents of violence and threatening behaviour towards judges and ushers.  HM Courts and Tribunal Service described an incident where, in December 2023, a judge was assaulted by a litigant in person during a private family hearing as “shocking”. The judge sitting at the Family Court in Milton Keynes required hospital treatment following the attack.

Unlike criminal proceeding the judge will not wear wigs and the lawyers in court are not expected to wear robes.

The pilot was approved by Sir Andrew McFarlane, the President of the Family Division and will initially run for 3 months from April to July 2024 to assess if the formality of robing will have an impact on the perception of the judges’ authority and safety. You will be aware from my previous post that family judges in the Central Family Court will now attend robed as part of a 3 month pilot. This has been introduced following concern about incidents of violent and threatening behaviour experienced by judges and court users.

There will be surveys before, during and after the pilot to assess whether robbing affects family court proceedings. This evaluation will consider the number of behavioural incidents experienced and judges’ perceptions of their own authority and safety for judges and court staff.

Formal court dress is not required by the judge or the lawyers in the Magistrates Court, Youth Court, the Coroners Court, County Court, Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court.

Wigs and gowns do have to be worn by Judges and lawyers in the Crown Court.

Further safety measures are being introduced by the HM Courts & Tribunals Service. Face-to-face mental health, tribunal hearings are being suspended in those NHS premises which do not comply with the minimum safety and security requirements.

The decision follows HM Courts & Tribunals Service’s review of safety measures across the courts and tribunals estate.

The suspension of face-to-face hearings will continue until HMCTS has a clearer picture of each hospital’s issue and how quickly it can resolve it.

Where the hospital or trust has not confirmed the safety of penal members, cases will be listed for a remote/video-only hearing. If a face-to-face hearing is required, an application will need to be made to refer the matter to a district tribunal judge for listing directions.

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The contents of this guide are for information and are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice

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