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McFarlane won’t rush family court guidance for ‘Freedom Day’

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(14 July 2021)

The president of the family division has decided not to ‘rush’ guidance on revised arrangements for the family courts to coincide with Covid restrictions being lifted next Monday.

In his latest View from the President’s Chamber, published today, Sir Andrew McFarlane acknowledged that while it might be tempting to circulate firm guidance on the family court and Court of Protection ahead of Monday, he took a different view.

The system was working ‘relatively well’ with the flexible use of remote, hybrid and in-person hearings. ‘There is no need for this to change on one particular date; indeed, such an idea would do nothing but cause extensive confusion and difficulty,’ he said.

‘Whilst formal distancing requirements and other restrictions may be lifted in July, it seems unlikely that the need for caution and good sense in relation to social interaction will totally disappear on a particular date, with the consequence that not all of our court rooms and the public spaces in court buildings will, even then, be suitable for a full return to face to face use.

‘Any move towards a new norm is likely to develop organically, with the support of guidance. Because of [the] above, we have time for it to do so, and it is better to proceed via consultation and planning, in the hope of achieving the best outcome, rather than rushing on to the next stage to coincide with a, necessarily, arbitrary date.’

A rapid consultation on how the family courts should operate when Covid restrictions begin to ease attracted more than 3,000 responses. McFarlane said any future guidance will do no more than provide a steer or identify a default position to assist judges.

The president concluded his update by expressing continued concern about the wellbeing of those working in the family justice system.

‘Currently, there is a need to give further consideration to the ever-increasing volume of email traffic and I am actively engaged in looking at this. In addition, there is a need to control the amount of time and number of communications taken up by lawyers after a hearing to draft the court’s order. More generally, I am very open to receiving ideas in relation to well-being,’ he said.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)