Attending family hearings during Covid-19
27 May 2021 by Joel Tyson
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has created significant problems for everyone across the globe and the family courts are no exception to this. Nonetheless, they must continue to operate in the interest of justice and the rule of law.
The family courts have had to adapt their approach to hearings so that they are able to proceed but whilst also keeping parties and court staff safe from exposure to coronavirus. In order to achieve this, many hearings are being conducted remotely through a variety of media platforms. The purpose of this blog is to provide a brief explanation of the types of hearings that the courts are using currently and what to expect if you are a party to the proceedings.
How to join a telephone or video hearings in the family court
What is the Cloud Video Platform?
Cloud Video Platform or ‘CVP’ is one of the most common ways for the courts to conduct hearings at present. CVP hearings allow each party and their representative to join a remote hearing on their computer, tablet, or laptop. Prior to the hearing, each party is provided with an email enclosing an HTML link. At the time of the hearing, you will need to click the link which will take you to a webpage. You will then need to enter your name into the appropriate box on the screen and then select ‘connect.’
Once connected a camera and microphone box will be displayed on your screen. You will need to make sure that your device has both audio and video capabilities. This will allow you to both be seen and heard during the hearing. If you are unable to join the CVP link through a video call you can also telephone call in to the hearing instead using the telephone number provide in the same email which enclosed the HTML link.
There is often a delay before the hearing starts to allow all parties to be connected and the Judge to start the hearing. When the hearing starts you will need to mute yourself unless you are required to speak. Being muted when you are not speaking is very important as it prevents feedback and other noise during the hearing. Further information about joining a CVP hearing can be found here.
What is BT Meet Me?
Hearings might also take place via ‘BT Meet Me’ which is a telephone conference service operated by British Telecoms (BT). Each party should provide their contact details to the court in advance including a telephone number and email address if applicable.
At the time of the hearing, each of the parties will receive a call asking them to join a telephone conference. To join the hearing;
- Press the * (star) key and number 1 to join;
- Say your name;
- Press the # (hash) key;
- Once you’re in the hearing, stay on mute until you’re asked to speak.
Once you have joined the Judge or Magistrate should introduce themselves and explain how the hearing will work and what you need to do.
What other types of hearings could there be?
Hearings may also take place via video call using different media platforms. These will be similar in nature to CVP hearing but they may use services such as; Skype, Microsoft Teams or a Video Hearing Service. It is also possible that, provided it is deemed safe, parties may be asked to attend court in person as was the norm prior to the pandemic.
In some circumstances, the court may wish to use multiple platforms for the hearing where parties may attend the hearing in person, by telephone and by video call simultaneously. Generally the decision to hold a hearing by telephone, video call, or a hybrid, could be for several reasons and this is at the discretion of the Judge. Some Judges take the view that where parties are giving evidence, particularly in cases involving children, it is preferable for parties to be present in court. The court or tribunal will tell you if this is happening and what platform will be used.
If you are attending a hearing remotely, it is important to remember that you are still joining a court hearing. This should be taken very seriously and you will need to show respect to the Judge and the other parties, their representatives, or witnesses. You must ensure that you are alone in a quiet space where there are no distractions, interruptions or other people, and where you cannot be overheard. It is a criminal offence for anyone, expect the court, to record what happens at a remote hearing.
You should be appropriately dressed and make sure that whatever device you are using has a sufficient power supply or battery to last for the duration of the hearing. Whilst the hearing is ongoing you should remain on mute unless spoken to. You should not interrupt anyone, even if you do not agree with what they are saying and you will have ample opportunity to speak eventually. If you have a barrister or solicitor representing you, they will generally speak on your behalf, except when you are giving evidence.
Further guidance on what to expect when joining a telephone or video hearing can be found here. If you have any further questions, please contact our Family Law team at 01206 700113 or email at [email protected].