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Family Court Proceedings – What will happen to my case in the wake of Covid 19?

If you are one of the many thousands with ongoing proceedings before the Family...

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Family Court Proceedings – What will happen to my case in the wake of Covid 19?

11th May 2020

News : Divorce & Family

If you are one of the many thousands with ongoing proceedings before the Family Court, you will be understandably concerned about what is going to happen with your case in light of the Coronavirus pandemic.

If you have a solicitor already acting for you, then clearly they are the first person to contact to seek some information and clarity. For those without formal representation, of course things are less straightforward.

The fact is that the wheels of family justice are still turning and cases are still progressing, albeit in a different way and potentially to a different timescale than pre Covid-19.

If you have a hearing due to take place in the next few weeks or even days the first thing to do is to contact the Court where that hearing is listed. Below is a link to the Court Service with contact details of all Courts as well as useful information as to their status.

https://courttribunalfinder.service.gov.uk/search/

The Courts across England and Wales have adapted to the brave new world by consolidating the Court work into fewer buildings and prioritizing cases where essential face to face hearings are required. The Court which is due to hear your case will fall into one of 3 categories below:-

  • Open courts(currently 160) – these buildings are open to the public for essential face-to-face hearings, they tend to be the larger Court Centres in bigger towns and cities.
  • Staffed courts– (currently 116) staff and judges will work from these buildings, but they will not be open to the public
  • Suspended courts(currently 75) – these courts will be temporarily close

You can check the status of your Court using the link below, please note the Court estate is being changed as time goes on so the link below is being constantly updated:-

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/courts-and-tribunals-tracker-list-during-coronavirus-outbreak

Just because your hearing was due to take place in a Court that is now only “staffed” but not open to the public, or indeed “suspended” completely, does not mean the hearing will not go ahead. It may be moved to a location that is open to the public if a face to face hearing is essential, or, more likely, it will be taking place “remotely” – either by way of telephone conference or video link.

Of course, in many cases, hearings are being adjourned (i.e. put back) to a date in the future so that the Courts can deal with the priority cases during this crisis.

Different Courts are favouring different approaches in terms of how the hearings are being dealt with, i.e video or telephone call or adjourning off to a future date. In other words it is a constantly moving picture.

So if you are one of these many thousands left in the dark with an imminent hearing what should you do? The answer must be to contact the Court. So long as it is staffed you will be able to speak to one of the team there, even if it takes a while to get through. If your Court is suspended then contact the nearest staffed Court to it. Below is a link to the current Court “heatmap” (courtesy of the Law Society) which shows the Courts throughout the UK on a map and, helpfully, lets you know their operating status.

https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/advice/articles/coronavirus-court-and-tribunal-building-status/

When you get through – have your case number to hand if you have it, it should be on any official Court documentation such as a Notice of Proceedings or Court Order. Then simply explain who you are and why you are calling – basically to find out a) is my case still happening?, b) if so where? and c) how – i.e in person, by video link or by telephone. Make sure you are in a position to provide them with the best number to get you on if the case is going to be dealt with by telephone, and/or the best e-mail to send you any link to the hearing if done by video conferencing. If you don’t have the facility to video conference don’t worry, but do tell them, so that they can note the Court file and ensure that the Judge is aware it will have to be a telephone hearing.

A word of warning, don’t expect to get a definitive answer straightaway. This is a very dynamic picture, often the Courts will not be in a positon to give you a definitive response until close to the hearing – maybe just a few days before, but each Court and each case is different. So be prepared to have to call back, and more than once. Work on the basis the hearing will be happening so be prepared, better that way round than to assume it’s going to be adjourned only to find the day before that it is happening.

If you need assistance with any of this and wish to instruct solicitors to do the leg work for you, as well as represent you at your forthcoming hearing…whenever, wherever and however it is taking place(!), do not hesitate to get in contact.

 

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