Will Covid-19 refocus Court processes?

How does working from home during Covid-19 affect your clients?
Remote hearings are satisfactory to the extent that they offer a fair process with fair outcomes. But yet, something is missing. For many people engaged in family proceedings, the outcome is of defining importance, yes, but so is the process of being heard. The lack of immediacy steals something from that. For many clients, especially at a final hearing at which significant, heavily contested and long-lasting decisions will be made in relation to their lives, there is a need to feel the intensity of the process, to live its nuances, to be able to tug, pass notes and express your deep frustration (with the process, the ex-partner, the judge…) to your lawyer. That is removed. It feels colder. It feels less immediate. It feels more “remote”.

What positive aspects are there, from this time, that may affect how you choose to work, or how you think the wider field should consider working, in the future?
The current reality serves to make louder two nagging thoughts:
(1) is it without question in the interest of each and every client that lawyers travel (and charge to travel) across the country, only to spend hours waiting (and charging for that wait) in court corridors? Might we not better serve our clients by offering the option (if agreed by all parties) of hearings (and I am thinking here about interim hearings) being conducted remotely even post-COVID-19? That way, a client would have the choice: pay extra for the fuller and often very important experience of face-to-face time with your lawyer(s) at court; or not;
(2) the ease of conducting hearings remotely from one’s home emphasises the extent to which much of the court estate is ill-suited to the task it is pressed into performing. Noisy and chaotic corridors, broken lavatories, a few seats for those who get there early – is that the arena in which you would wish for your financial future, or the best interests of your children, to be fought?

If the experience of COVID-19 focusses minds on (1) and (2), that would be a positive.

Alexander is the author of Public Children Law: Contemporary Issues, Child Protection and the Family Court: What you Need to Know

Written by Alexander Laing

Barrister practising at Coram Chambers

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