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The Family Court and COVID-19: The Road Ahead

President charts the way ahead over the next six months or more

The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has published The Road Ahead for the Family Court in England and Wales.

The document seeks to establish a broad framework for the Family Court by attempting to chart the road ahead over the next six months or more.

The President writes:

"We have reached a juncture in the Family Court's journey through the COVID 19 crisis when it is both possible and necessary to take stock and to consider the road ahead. It is possible to do this because, in contrast to the early weeks, there is now a bedrock of experience of remote working. This experience, both positive and negative, was in large part described and teased out in the enormously valuable and impressive report published by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory on remote hearings in the Family Court in early May 2020. It is necessary to look at the road ahead because any earlier rose-tinted thoughts that 'this will all be over by July' have sadly evaporated and it is now clear that, whilst the situation of total lockdown may be gradually relaxed, the need for stringent social distancing restrictions is likely to remain for many months to come."

He notes that it is sensible to assume that social distancing restrictions will remain in place for many months and that it is unlikely that anything approaching a return to the normal court working environment will be achieved before the end of 2020 or even the spring of 2021.

The volume of applications to the Family Court in both private and public law children cases has continued at pre-COVID rates. Applications for domestic abuse injunctions have either remained at usual levels or have, in certain inner-city areas, significantly risen.

Consequently, the Family Court must now, for a sustained period, seek to achieve the fair, just and timely determination of a high volume of cases with radically reduced resources "in sub-optimal court settings".

To access the document, click here.