As families have had to adapt to the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic, family lawyers have done so too – will we go back to face-to-face meetings in the old way, or will the new technologies to which we have all become accustomed become part of a new way of working for the future, both in court and in person?
How have court hearings changed and will that be permanent?
The government required changes to both the listing of hearings and the opening of certain courts at an early stage, though a substantial number of courts remained open across the country and cases continued to be heard. We anticipate that courts will continue to re-open gradually, so the capacity to hear cases will increase.
Where possible (in the majority of private law cases) hearings have been taking place by either telephone conference or video conference, and our family law team adapted quickly so that we could continue to represent clients at these hearings, regardless of how they are listed; the barristers with whom we work have also done the same.
Hearings via video or telephone conference have also taken place – our Worcester team recently engaged in a contested directions hearing in an ongoing Children Act matter, where there was a dispute regarding contact (or “spending time with”). We also took part in a three day contested final financial remedy hearing, which saw clients and experts giving evidence before a judge, all on video conference.
We expect that we will continue to see courts dealing with matters by telephone conference and video hearings where possible. There will still be, when possible, a return to face-to-face trials but a combination of these ways of working should help both clients and courts to deal with matters more quickly and accessibly long-term.
What changes have been made to working practices?
As well as the courts operating remotely to some extent, lawyers have been doing so too, to a much greater extent, so that we can help people making difficult personal decisions about their lives in a time of considerable national difficulty.
We are now gradually returning to our offices on a phased basis and so will be able to re-introduce face-to-face clients meetings when it is safe to do so and depending on what our clients want. We expect that many clients will take advantage of the technology to meet us remotely to take their cases forward, as part of a new way of working for everyone.