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‘Safe space’: judge highlights benefit of office returns

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(24 May 2021)

Remote working removed the ‘safe space’ that home represented for family judges working on tough cases during the pandemic, a senior judge has told lawyers.

District judge Andrew Dodsworth, president of the Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges, told family law group Resolution’s conference last week that he worked from home at the start of the first national lockdown and returned to court last June.

‘It was much easier and enabled me to put boundaries back. The difference of working from home and living at work and I have got that back,’ he recalled.

Highlighting the impact of remote working for judicial colleagues, he said: ‘When you are dealing with chaos and the unpleasantness [within family cases], being able to leave that at court and having home as a safe space is very important. Once you blur the two, it can be difficult to find space to clear your head.’

Dodsworth was responding to a question about what practical steps can be taken after a survey revealed that one in four practitioners are ready to quit family law. Nearly half of those considering leaving the profession are junior practitioners.

Resolution chair Juliet Harvey said change needed to be driven from the top down. ‘It’s not enough just to say to someone “Are you ok?” We should be asking the much more open-ended questions. “Talk to me about that file or client that you found really troubling?” Just asking someone if they are ok is going to give you a closed-off answer. We need to share our own experiences and stresses with junior members.’

The Association of Lawyers for Children has set up a sub-committee that will focus solely on junior members of the profession, co-chair Hannah Perry said.

The panellists, who also included Hannah Markham QC, were participating in a Family Justice Question Time session.

Asked earlier about the impact of Covid-19 on the family justice system, Dodsworth felt there had been a ‘loss of humanity’. He said: ‘Whilst conducting hearings by phone or video, it has been necessary to get things done. It is difficult to be empathetic with the parents when you cannot see them, see they’re about to break down.’

However, remote hearings had made it easier for some people – such as litigants in person who might have struggled to take time off work – to engage with the system, or to find legal representation for urgent cases. ‘The real issue going forward is what is going to stay remote and what is going to go back into court,’ Dodsworth said.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)