Today I had a dispute resolution hearing. However, nothing got resolved and the hearing got postponed.
I received the phone call from the court 10 minutes after it was due. This had me feeling really anxious and stressed. I was worried that I had missed the call, had got the wrong time, that my phone wasn't working, etc. I was constantly checking my phone and emails, and checking the order to make sure I hadn't missed something or got the time wrong. I wanted to ring the court to find out what was going on, but I couldn't, because sod's law, if I did that, the court would have tried to call me when I was trying to call them and I would have ended up missing the hearing.
When they finally called, I learnt that they were late connecting me because my ex hadn't provided the court with her phone number. I gave the judge her number, they tried to call my ex whilst I was put on hold, but she didn't answer.
Further to that, they hadn't received the safeguarding letter from Cafcass. It was left to me to explain to the judge that this was because Cafcass hadn't received instruction from them and that I had to call Cafcass myself who asked me to email them photographs of the order, and that they have now up a safeguarding interview with me this afternoon (after the time when the hearing was to take place). I had to explain to the judge that we didn't receive a copy of the order until about a week after the safeguarding letter from Cafcass was due and that might be why Cafcass didn't receive instruction. The judge thanked me for filling her in. I essentially acted as a messenger between the two which I don't feel should be my responsibility.
As a result, I was only on the phone with the judge briefly. However, I found the whole scenario very stressful. Not being able to be in the room with judge and read her body language/use verbal cues made things more difficult, in my opinion. There were also times where the judge started speaking to someone else in the room with her, presumably a secretary typing everything up. The first time the judge did this, I responded thinking she was talking to me. It was very confusing and the judge never explained what she was doing, I was just expected to know.
My ex missed the hearing today probably because she forgot. I actually missed the first hearing for medical reasons, which would have actually been avoided if I was physically at the court (my health condition can cause me to forget and muddle things up and I muddled the time of the hearing up by half an hour - in a physical court I would have had people around me to tell me 'It's time to see the judge now'). I am sure there are a lot of other parents who are missing these hearing for various reasons, but ultimately because there is a lack of guidance and parents are being left to their own devices.
I would be interested to know how others have found remote hearings. Mine was done by phone call (BT Meet Me). My social anxiety does not bode well with phone calls in general and I am finding the whole thing very stressful. I was hoping it would all be over with today. Ultimately, I think there is a severe lack of guidance for these remote hearings, especially for those of us self-representing, and I feel that not physically being in the room with the judge makes everything ten times harder. As humans we rely heavily on non verbal cues, and without these, it can be hard to know what to do and when to do it in these remote hearings.
Whilst I was panicking as I was waiting to see if the court were going to call me, and wondering what I should do, I frantically Googled for the answer. I didn't find it, but I did come across this interesting document about the pros and cons (mainly cons) of remote hearings in the family court. It doesn't provide solutions, but it has provided me with some reassurance at least to know I'm not the only one who has struggled with them. Even the judges and solicitors are finding it difficult:
wow what a mess. You were on time for hearing this time round and still no progress! I had a DRA hearing back in April. It went quite smoothly. was funny when ex's barrister told the judge she doesn't have her clients phone number lol. I actually found it less stressful than being there in person. I was was there in person for 1st hearing and self-representing. The judge was very intimidating and kept cutting me off multiple times when I was speaking. looked like she was only interested in what my ex' barrister had to say. cafcass lady was very organised so we had section 7 report in good time.
also her barrister is a good wind up merchant, always looking at me with a smug face, before telling the court a barrage of lies and inaccurate info about me. at least in the phone hearing I couldn't see her and her stupid antics. it was a male judge, who was very polite and gave me plenty of chances to speak and would clarify anything I didn't understand. he was very keen to not let this go to a contested hearing and prolong things even more. so the 2nd hearing became final. and he didn't want us to return to court in future
My view is that remote hearings are useful in the right circumstances, and they can dramatically reduce wasted time in court (time is spent in court simply getting into the court room and settling down, and then leaving at the end of it - may only be 10 minutes, but add those up and it amounts to a lot of court time) and that in -person hearings should happen later on when all information gathering has been done, or if there is a serious matter to resolve early on.
It's not surprising the judges are struggling too - the courts never expected to have to to this, certainly not so suddenly, so they are having to find their way as much as the public is.
There needs to be penalties for missing court phone calls, potentially contempt of court if someone has been ordered to be available for a call.
That's interesting that you both feel more positive about remote hearings. I think my main issue is the act of doing things over the phone itself, especially something has a big as a court hearing, I feel less anxious if I can see who I am speaking to.
actd, good point about time being wasted, that definitely is an issue of regular hearings. I just find it easier to be there in person.
I missed my first hearing and was told that I was to pay my ex's fee as well as my own, but for whatever reason, this was being delayed until the resolution hearing to be made definite. I'm hoping it has worked in my favour that my ex then missed that hearing, and that it levels the playing field, as surely if I have to pay for missing a hearing, she should too. Fingers crossed the judge sees it that way.
Bill, I can relate to the ex's representation being smug. It's not a pleasant experience. On the last two applications I made, my ex had two different solicitors, but both from the same firm, who have a reputation locally for taking on 'problematic' clients, so to speak, and then just doing whatever they need to do in order to get paid. So they were both very smug, and tried to paint me in a bad light unnecessarily and inaccurately. It's like their morals go out the window. I don't know how they sleep at night. The first solicitor my ex would actually laugh at me when I made any kind of reasonable request of my ex and be like 'Well, I'll ask her, but I don't think she's going to go for that...'. To avoid those kinds of scenarios, I agree, remote hearings by phone do it make that side of things easier.
When I found out my ex was using one of these solicitors again for this application, I wasn't best pleased. However he wasn't on the phone call for the resolution hearing, so I am guessing my ex ran out of money and couldn't afford him anymore. Otherwise he would have made sure she was in attendance.
Remote hearings for family courts 'horribly cruel'
Court hearings held remotely in lockdown disadvantage vulnerable people and should not be used longer term, lawyers and charities have said.
Incidents to have raised concern to lawyers include:
-Defendants using mobiles to access hearings
-An order to take a newborn baby into care made over the telephone
-A judge accidentally dialling a stranger into a call
-A victim being left on the same line alone with the perpetrator
Yeah, these same incidents are included in the document I posted too. It's madness.
If the court do decide to use remote hearings more post-pandemic then I think it should only be in certain circumstances and if all parties are comfortable. They will also need to tighten up the ship to ensure things like dialling in the wrong person or leaving someone on the line alone with an abuser, etc, just don't happen.
Yes, I agree that they are only good in certain circumstances, but used correctly, they could free up more court time for hearings in person - I think each has their place. I also don't understand why they can't use video calling instead of voice calls, or at least have that as an option.
A lot of courts are using video calls it seems. For whatever reason though, my recent hearings have been via phone call. Although I'm not a fan of video calls in general either, I think I'd prefer that to a phone call.