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President of the Family Division Issues Further Guidance

12 January 2021

Sir Andrew MacFarlane, President of the Family Court Division has just issued his latest guidance to those practising family law in the Covid crisis. 

When lockdown first hit back in March 2020 (several lifetimes ago you may feel!) it was Sir Andrew who published guidance to families, as well as practitioners, in relation to contact arrangements in the first lockdown – much needed when the likes of Michael Gove go on national TV and erroneously tell everyone that the lockdown restrictions still apply to separated parents…they don’t!  That guidance remains valid. 

Back in June he published guidance principally aimed at those professionals working within the Family Justice system, in particular those involved with Court proceedings. The Road Ahead concentrated on how the Family Courts were operating, and were to operate, during the crisis, focusing on Remote Working. 

That guidance has now been updated (08.01.2021) and you can read it here. It highlights concerns raised in studies about the working environment for many within the Family Justice System in the Covid environment – in particular highlighting the fact that homeworking has meant professionals, and Court staff, are working very long and anti-social hours because the workload is there, and they can physically do so from their “home offices” – for which read kitchen tables/spare rooms…even attics in some cases!  The President has made it clear that such practices need to discourage – “The pressure of work in the courts, and the backlog of cases, are matters that concern the system as a whole. They will not be resolved by individuals working beyond reasonable capacity, but by increased resources and strategic, system-wide changes”

In addition, he has warned that all professionals must keep “A keen eye on the engagement of lay parties during a remote hearing to ensure they are sufficiently connected with the court process”. The reality is that, whilst members of the public are told at the outset of all telephone hearings that they are to be treated as if they were stood in front of the court – it just does not feel that way….and that risks lack of engagement and understanding of the Judicial Process and the consequent erosion of respect for it. That is why the recommendation, more than ever before, is for video hearings as opposed to telephone hearings. 

This important guidance comes in the context of a clear realisation that, whilst there is light at the end of the tunnel in the form of vaccinations, that tunnel is a longer one than first hoped and – to stretch the analogy – the wheels of Family justice must keep on turning until we get out the other end.

If you need assistance from our team of expert divorce and family solicitors, do not hesitate to get in touch.

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