Keep family hearings in court, not online

In our response to the Scottish Civil Justice Council consultation about which court hearings should be face-to-face in court and which should be online, Shared Parenting Scotland makes a strong case for almost all hearings on family issues to return to being heard in court:

  • To impress on parties the seriousness of what is being considered and the importance of complying in full with the decisions of the court;
  • To ensure that parties are fully aware of what their representatives are putting forward on their behalf and also hear what is presented on behalf of the other party or parties in the case. Shared Parenting Scotland is often told that a parent doesn’t know what is happening in a hearing when they are not present or that they feel that their lawyer has not put their case fully or accurately;
  • So that the sheriff or judge conducting the case is able to see the parties in person and therefore form an impression of them. Credibility is often a key factor in a family case and it is important that sheriffs and judges are able to see and hear parties in person, rather than on a screen.
  • To maximise the potential for settlement of the matters that have been raised in court through discussion between parties and their representatives before or during the actual hearing. This is particularly important for the children whose arrangements are being considered in court. It is preferable that decisions are reached by mutual agreement rather than by order of court, both to reduce continuing conflict between parties and to make it more likely that the agreed arrangements will be followed by the parties. The ten or fifteen minutes before any family court hearing are often a crucial opportunity for dialogue. This type of settlement is far less likely from a hearing by electronic means. This type of settlement also benefits the court when it leads to a joint minute of agreement rather than prolonging detailed disagreement through a series of child welfare hearings;
  • It is important for the standing of Scotland’s courts in the eyes of parties. Previous research showed that parties are more likely to report acceptance of a sheriff or judge’s decision if they feel they have had a fair hearing – even when the decision doesn’t give them what they wanted.

Similarly, electronic hearings may be useful as a mechanism for ensuring that parties in islands and remote areas have access to the same specialist family judicial experience and expertise as those in our main population centres.

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