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Remote hearings should not necessarily be seen as a long-term option for the family courts, a leading judge has warned.
Speaking at a webinar last week, Mr Justice MacDonald, deputy head of international family justice, said: “Through the use of remote hearings, we have been able to maintain, albeit at a reduced level, effective access to justice for families in crisis and for vulnerable children and to continue to mitigate the damage done by family breakdown and child abuse notwithstanding the unprecedented impact of a global crisis.”
He added the use of technology had, at least to an extent, reduced both the backlog of cases and “the acute impact of the crisis on legal practitioners”.
The judge highlighted that the loss of a “direct human connection” presented an issue for family law cases, Legal Futures reports.
He said: “In some cases a crucial element in the judge’s analysis is… [their] ability to experience the behaviour of the person who is the focus of the allegations throughout the oral court process, not only when they are in the witness box but also when they are sitting in the well of the court.”
A full investigation would be desirable to determine next steps, the judge added.
“It would be undesirable for a system rolled out as a matter of urgent necessity in a state of emergency to become the de facto format of the family justice system without the appropriate level of public consultation and debate, particularly in circumstances where the adoption of that system would shape access to family justice for the populace for years and decades to come.
“While remote hearings will likely remain one of the tools for the administration of family justice long after the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, I for one am clear that such successes we have had with implementing the widespread use of remote hearings during the current period of acute crisis should not be taken as establishing a settled mode of operation for the family courts after the resolution of the current emergency.”