Kate Stovold continues to share her positive experiences of remote hearings and in particular the constructive involvement of CAFCASS.
I was recently involved in a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment at a Court in the South West. It was conducted via telephone, as is fast becoming the new ‘normal’.
In accordance with directions, all parties provided their telephone numbers to the Court – clients, barristers and solicitors. We were all joined into the call by the Deputy District Judge. The Hearing started on time, with arrangements for the e-filing of the Bundle being made in advance.
To my mind, the most positive aspect of the Hearing was evidenced by the proactive and child-focussed involvement of the duty social worker from CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). This body, “independent of the courts, social services and education and health authorities, represents children in family court cases, putting children’s needs, wishes and feelings first and making sure that children’s voices are heard at the heart of the family court setting, and that decisions are made in their best interests.”
Under normal circumstances with a Hearing at a Court building, the duty social worker would have been at Court too, moving between the parties and assisting with discussions about interim child arrangements.
As we all know, lockdown requires flexibility and so for this Hearing, the social worker spent much of the morning on the telephone. She spent time with the father, and time with the mother. She reported back. She suggested compromise options. She was both proactive and reactive. In short, she helped the parties narrow the gulf between them, and appeared to do so in a friendly and constructive way.
That the social worker was then able to join the Hearing and provide further insight and guidance to the Judge served only to further enhance the effectiveness of the Hearing. In particular, the Judge was able to hear the social worker’s views on one discrete issue. This enabled the Judge to make a careful and informed decision.
This was joined up approach. The solicitors preparing the case. The barristers conducting an effective Hearing. The social worker sharing insight and recommendations. The Judge making child focussed orders and directions.
A positive step for this family, and proof that remote hearings in lockdown work and can be successful.