A two-week consultation into the use of remote hearings in the family courts has delivered mixed results.

Conducted at the request of Family Division President Sir Andrew McFarlane, more than 1,000 people responded to the survey, conducted last month by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. Respondents included social workers, lawyers and parents.

The use of telephones and video conferencing software to conduct remote hearings has been the default approach in the family courts since the government introduced lockdown measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Respondents to the survey highlighted the problems posed by remote hearings to some groups, such those with learning difficulties and disabilities, those without ready access to phones or computers, and those who do not speak fluent English and require interpreters. Some cited the need for greater attention to be paid to body language and facial expressions while on video, and the loss of such feedback while using phones. An additional area of concern was the greater efforts needed to protect privacy in relation to sensitive matters like domestic violence.

Others called for greater guidance on good practice in remote hearings and for more IT training. Most respondents believed video conferencing was the most effective medium for remote court hearings.

Opinions were mixed  on whether or not remote hearings were a net positive, but most of the respondents believed they were necessary in the current circumstances and some believed they could continue to be used for some cases once the current restrictions are lifted.

Sir Andrew said he welcomed publication of the findings.

The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory conducts research into the operation of the family courts. It is a subsidiary of the larger Nuffield Foundation.

Read the full report here.

Image by Philippe Put via Flickr (Creative Commons)