It has been announced that just 43% of Courts are to remain open for face to face Court Hearings during the coronavirus pandemic, with the majority of matters to be heard remotely. This is to reduce the risk of Court users spreading the infection.

The Courts have been conducting the majority of family law hearings remotely since the announcement on 23rd March and the feedback from the Judiciary thus far looks to be very positive, albeit there are inevitably challenges arising. 

The lord chief justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon has said ‘An extraordinary amount of hard work has gone into keeping our justice system functioning. Technology is being used creatively to ensure that many cases can continue. Not everything can be dealt with remotely and so we need to maintain functioning courts.

‘These temporary adjustments to how we use the court estate will help ensure that we can continue to deal with work appropriately in all jurisdictions whilst safeguarding the well-being of all those who work in and visit the courts.’

This use of technology in Court is unprecedented and will likely revolutionise the way that the Courts function day to day. 

If you have an upcoming Hearing and require any assistance preparing, please telephone us to book a consultation.

DV1

Priti Patel has assured victims of domestic abuse that they have not been forgotten.

Ms Patel has recognised in her newspaper column that the recent restrictions could make things much more difficult for those whose home is not the safe haven it should be. 

People are expected to remain at home at all times save for a very limited number of exceptions. Tensions will likely be high, to a victim of domestic abuse it may feel as though there is no escape. 

The police have already expressed concerns about how the announcement made on 23 March may affect victims of abuse within the home and campaigners have highlighted how abuse has worsened in recent weeks in other countries such as Australia and China. Ms Patel has stated:

“I am acutely aware that the necessary guidelines about social distancing and self-isolation may leave the victims of hidden crime, such as domestic abuse and child sexual abuse, feeling especially isolated, vulnerable and exposed,but my message to every potential victim is simple: we have not forgotten you and we will not let you down. My message to every perpetrator is equally as simple: you will not get away with your crimes.” 

She clarified that leaving home is permitted if it is to seek help from a refuge. Whilst this is positive, it is not always easy for a woman to leave, particularly if there are other factors to consider, such as children.

The government have helpfully put together a helpful guide in this crisis. For further information, including useful telephone numbers for victims of domestic abuse, please click on the below link.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-and-domestic-abuse/coronavirus-covid-19-support-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse

For advice on obtaining a Non Molestation Order, an Occupation Order please telephone our offices to arrange an appointment. 

DV2

Campaigners have been expressing their concerns in respect of the impact of the current lockdown on victims of domestic abuse. 

Victims of abuse will likely have no escape during quarantine. In the UK, it is early days with lockdown only having been in place for one week. Data from other countries is however concerning and it is hoped that our government will pass legislation to provide further protection to victims during lockdown.

In Hubei province, domestic violence reports to police more than tripled 

Wan Fei, a retired police officer has said“According to our statistics, 90% of the causes of violence [in this period] are related to the Covid-19 epidemic.”

An increase has been noted in Brazil and Cyprus, with it being noted in Italy that whilst there was a rise, more reports were being made by email and text. No doubt the reason for this is that victims cannot use the telephone with their abuser permanently present. 

Although in Spain the government has told women they will not be fined if they leave home to report abuse, the country saw it’s first domestic violence fatality since the lockdown began. 

It is the case in all countries that there is a greater likelihood of domestic abuse taking place due to the restrictions on leaving the home. Worryingly, as rates of domestic violence will rise, accessibility to services decreases. 

Governments across the world continue to attempt to find a solution to the problem, suggestions have included providing the police with the power to evict during the lockdown. No new laws have been made to protect victims, but the trends seen in other countries does seem to suggest that this is a problem in need of a solution. 

The government have helpfully put together a helpful guide in this crisis. For further information, including useful telephone numbers for victims of domestic abuse, please click on the below link.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-and-domestic-abuse/coronavirus-covid-19-support-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse

For advice on obtaining a Non Molestation Order, an Occupation Order please telephone our offices to arrange an appointment. 

Children:

For separated parents, government guidance in relation to contact with children has been unclear to say the least. 

Many will have seen the recent government press conference where it was clearly stated that children will remain with one parent during the period of lockdown. This statement was quickly retracted and it was announced that in fact, children could spend their time between the homes of both parents. Recent guidance has set out that children can spend time at each home but that they do not have to do so. It is a matter for the parents to decide, in their circumstances, what is best for the child. 

The law assumes that it is in a childs best interest to have both parents in their life, and this guidance seems to follow suit. It would be unconscionable for a child not to see their mother or father for what could be several months without significant reason. Routine and consistency are of huge importance to children at this time. 

Of course there will inevitably be some difficulties surrounding contact and it is extremely important that parents work together so far as possible to reach a decision that is in the best interests of the child. It is important at an early stage for parents to decide what is/is not appropriate. 

We are in unprecedented times. It may be that the childs mother would rather they didn’t leave home for their daily exercise. It may be that the child’s father is keen for them to complete schoolwork at set times. These sorts of things will need to be discussed to ensure consistency and help to eliminate the possibility of arguments. Children will likely be very anxious at this time so conflict should be kept to a minimum. Children are at home so are likely to hear telephone calls and this should be borne in mind by the parents.

Where the parents agree that travelling between homes frequently is not best for the child, they may consider the use of facetime or other similar applications. Calls can be scheduled in to provide consistency of contact and a routine for the child. This will also ensure that both parents remain a key part of the childs life. If contact is less frequent, it would likely be sensible for additional contact to be arranged later in the year. 

Where there is a Court Order in place and everyone with parental responsibility/every party in the Order agrees to a temporary variation, there is no need to go to Court on this issue. It is entirely conceivable that a variation may be in the childs best interests during this time. If this is the case, it would be sensible to document any variation in writing.

Where there is a dispute in respect of contact or any other issue, mediators continue to work and mediation can take place remotely. As a last resort, an application to Court can be made. The family Court continues to hear matters. Such a step should only be taken where it is entirely necessary and all other options have been exhausted.

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