Two in five (40 per cent) parents and relatives say they “did not understand what had happened” during a remote or hybrid family court hearing, a major study has revealed.
The research, published by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, is among the first to highlight the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on families currently going through legal proceedings.
The paper comes six months after remote and hybrid hearings were first introduced to the family courts in response to public health guidance, which saw families taking part in proceedings from home via telephone or video software.
However, the findings show that many parents are taking part alone and “often without the technology or support they need to properly take part” in “crucial and often painful life-changing decisions”, usually involving children.
Of the over 1,300 parents and relatives involved in the study, 88 per cent report “having concerns about the way their case was dealt with”, while two thirds (66 per cent) felt their case “had not been dealt with well”.
Worryingly, 40 per cent of parents and relatives said they had “not understood what had happened during the hearing”.
Others, meanwhile, expressed concern about “the difficulty of creating an empathetic and supportive environment when hearings are held remotely”. This point was particularly poignant in trials involving the removal of newborn babies, with birth mothers having to join by phone.
Commenting on the study, Lisa Harker, director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, said: “We cannot put the lives of thousands of children and families on hold while we hope for face-to-face practice to resume, and it’s clear that judges, barristers and other professionals have put in enormous personal effort to keep the system moving during very challenging times.
“But equally life-changing decisions must be reached fairly for all involved. The family court is often dealing with incredibly vulnerable people, from victims of domestic abuse to mums being separated from their babies, and they must be supported to fully participate. Our consultation showed great concern among professionals for the experience of traumatised parents facing the system. It also highlighted that many of the issues could be solved with relatively simple measures.”
For help and advice with related family law issues, please get in touch Alison Green at Mackrell.Solicitors today.
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