Re P (A Child: Remote Hearing) (Rev 3) [2020] EWFC 32

It is difficult to image Jack Nicholson delivering his seminal ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ line from a Few Good Men (1992) via video link.  Would the plea of Atticus Finch that ‘…all men are created equal’ have been quite so emotive over Zoom? I doubt it!  

However, needs must, and, in recent weeks, remote hearings have become more prevalent.  That said, it is a trend not without its limits. The President of the Family Division in England & Wales, Sir Andrew McFarlane, recently intervened in a case scheduled to be heard remotely.

Establishing that a hearing can be conducted remotely, does not in any way mean that the hearing must be conducted in that way

The case, relating to the care of a seven-year-old child, had been listed for a 15-day hearing in the High Court.  Various allegations, including fabricated or induced illness, have been made, all of which are fully contested by the child’s mother.  It was intended to be a full final hearing on the matter with the effective outcome being that either the child would be returned to her mother or be placed in foster care.

The judge who undertakes such a hearing may well be able to cope with the cross-examination and the assimilation of the detailed evidence from the e-bundle and from the process of witnesses appearing over Skype, but that is only part of the judicial function. The more important part… is for the judge to see all the parties in the case when they are in the courtroom, in particular the mother, and although it is possible over Skype to keep the postage stamp image of any particular attendee at the hearing… it is a very poor substitute to seeing that person fully present before the court.

The case is to be relisted for a hearing in the High Court post-lockdown.

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By Paul Sullivan FRSA

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