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Last week ITV Granada Reports looked at whether remote court hearings in family cases are helping or hindering the legal system. Working remotely and practising social distancing it seems, despite the total lockdown situation being gradually relaxed, is likely to continue for many months.

With this in mind, today, Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division published, ‘The Road Ahead’, a document aimed to establish a broad framework for the Family Court by attempting to chart the road ahead for the coming months.

The Family Courts were already stretched pre-COVID19, and since lockdown, this has created further backlogs meaning that separated families are having to wait longer than usual, and, longer than necessary, for their applications to be heard.

A lot of these cases involve parents who are not seeing their children, and separated parties who are still living together, in stressful situations at home, and who need financial issues, such as their future living arrangements to be dealt with. Lockdown has exacerbated the delay families are having to endure, causing further stress to an already emotive and difficult situation. It is envisaged that this situation will only get worse once lockdown is over.

Sir Andrew McFarlane states in his report that,

‘In all Family cases, regard should always be had to alternative means of dispute resolution. At a time when it is clear that the court will struggle to cope with the volume of cases in a restricted working environment, it is all the more important that parties, legal advisers and the judiciary should have express regard to all forms of non-court dispute resolution (in accordance with rule 3.4 FPR 2010) including mediation, conciliation or arbitration.’

Further, ‘There will be many private law children cases or financial remedy cases that may be resolved by one or other of these alternative means. All Judges and practitioners are urged to familiarise themselves with these options and be prepared to identify those cases which may be suitable for one or other forms of ADR.’

To read the full article click here https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/the-family-court-and-covid-19-the-road-ahead/

The Family Mediation Council have also recently submitted proposals to the Ministry of Justice designed to assist separating families during the coronavirus pandemic, and, ease the extra burden that already falls on the overstretched Family Courts. These proposals have been shared with Sir Andrew McFarlane, his Private Law Working Group, CAFCASS and the National Association of Child Contact Centres. They include:

  • The MOJ paying for all MIAMS, irrespective of whether a party is eligible for Legal Aid or not;

  • Ways to ensure better enforcement of current rules regarding MIAMS attendance including encouragement by the Court for Respondents to attend a MIAM where they have not;

  • Better Court awareness of the opportunities offered by mediation;

  • An online Duty Mediator Scheme.

To read the full proposals visit: familymediationcouncil.org.uk-proposals-family-mediation

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