Weekly Family Law Update June 1, 2021

Remote experts, home working and the latest Cafcass figures

Judge wants medical experts to give evidence remotely

A judge looking into the lack of medical experts prepared to give evidence in family cases has expressed the hope that they will be able to continue to give evidence remotely after the pandemic is over.

Medical experts are often instructed in children cases, for example to give evidence about the cause of any injuries a child has suffered. Their evidence is often essential to the outcome of a case.

During the pandemic most family court hearings have been conducted remotely, by telephone or via the internet, and the medical experts involved have therefore given evidence remotely, usually from their consulting rooms.

Mr Justice Williams told the annual conference of Resolution, the association of family lawyers, that nearly all experts want to continue to give evidence remotely, in particular as it saves them the time involved in travelling to and from court. He said he hoped that this would become a permanent change.

Family lawyers expect to continue to work from home after Covid

The Covid-19 pandemic has also of course meant that most family lawyers have been working from home.

In the course of their conference Resolution has been conducting a survey of its members on future working arrangements. Early results from the survey indicate that at least half of the members expect to continue to work from home, at least part of the time, after the pandemic is over.

Most expected to spend about 50 per cent of their time working in the office, and the other 50 percent working from home.

Meanwhile, a senior judge told the conference that remote working removed the ‘safe space’ that home represented for family judges working on difficult cases during the pandemic.

District judge Andrew Dodsworth, who is the president of the Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges, worked from home at the start of the first national lockdown and returned to court last June. He said that it was very important to be able to leave the “chaos and the unpleasantness” involved in some family cases at court, and keep home as a safe space.

As to the effect of the pandemic on the family justice system, he said that whilst remote hearings had made it easier for some people to engage with the system, they made it difficult to be empathetic with the parents when you could not see them.

Latest Cafcass figures for children cases

The latest figures for public law (including care) applications and private law demand (mainly child arrangements applications), for April 2021, have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings.

In that month Cafcass received 1,332 new public law cases, featuring 2,099 children; this represents a decrease of 2.3% (31 public law cases) and a decrease of 7.0% (159 children) on the 1,363 new public law cases received and the 2,258 children on those cases in April 2020.

As to private law demand, Cafcass received 3,648 new private law cases in April 2021, which is 1,092 cases (42.7%) more than the same period in 2020. These cases involved 5,541 children, which is 1,645 (42.2%) more children than April 2020. This increase appears to be mainly due to the reduction of cases in April 2020, due to the first national lockdown.

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