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Several clients have expressed concern that the Courts have completely stopped operating due to the COVID-19 lockdown. This is absolutely not the case.
It is true that many contested hearings or final hearings in relation to finances and children have been adjourned for the time being. However, there are many hearings that are going ahead remotely either by video or telephone conferencing, allowing cases to proceed.
We are being advised by our local Courts that many applications can now be submitted electronically, previously they would have to be posted or personally presented to the Court office. We are also being told that certainly, preliminary and administrative hearings are going ahead so that cases are not unnecessarily stalled.
Further guidance on this point is expected in the next few weeks given that lockdown has already been extended beyond the initial three week period.
We know that there are differences in the way that Courts are operating in different areas. This can affect us here because we operate routinely in Courts in Sheffield, Chesterfield, Nottingham and Doncaster. It is hoped that there will be some further guidance in due course which will regulate and standardise the approach that the different Courts are taking.
For the time being at least hearings are going ahead. It is likely that as this situation develops, and if lockdown is further extended that there will be more final hearings and contested hearings that are conducted remotely. Part of the problem for all of us has been the logistics of setting up the arrangements to be able to take part in such hearings. This includes the Judges and the Courts who are used to face to face hearings which have been a requirement up until the lockdown period commenced.
We have all had to adjust in many ways in the way we work and live. We are proud to say that we have been able to adjust to the operating of the Courts in this “virtual” manner swiftly and effectively.
In relation to family matters the message is clear: whilst the Courts may not be operating in the same way as they have previously, they are still operating and Court proceedings are still an option for people who find themselves in desperate circumstances, either as a result of not being able to spend time with their children or as a result of domestic abuse. Financial applications can still be made although perhaps the initial administrative hearing will be done remotely. People should not feel that there is no recourse available to them during this difficult time.
If you need any assistance at all then please contact our family department on the Family Law Helpline 0114 220 2186.