Lord Carloway has reassured Shared Parenting Scotland that parents should be taking part in family hearings as the courts move back towards more normal business patterns but with many hearings conducted remotely by phone or video.
Responding to our letter, the Lord President commented “There is no policy in place in either the Court of Session or in the sheriff court which has the effect that any party is excluded from a hearing.… It is fundamental to justice being done that parties can participate effectively in court hearings.”
During the early lockdown stages phone hearings have only involving the lawyers, but continuation of this interim measure has now been ruled out. Shared Parenting Scotland will also expect that unrepresented parents will be able to involve lay representatives and lay supporters in hearings from now on, but we would advise people wanting this support to contact courts well in advance of hearings.
We also asked about availability of contact centres, and Lord Carloway confirmed: “They are a valuable resource which is utilised frequently by the judiciary, the legal profession and child welfare reporters, to support contact between children and their families in a safe environment… I can assure you, however, that judges, including sheriffs, are aware of the current position in relation to their availability and capacity. Judges will continue to give this due consideration when deciding on the most appropriate disposal in family cases.”
Lord Carloway also referred to his updated family guidance of 16 July that stresses that court orders should be complied with and that there are now very few possible COVID-19 reasons for disrupting contact. It further reminds parents that if a case returns to court the judge will look at whether any parent has acted unreasonably in withholding contact.
He stated: “It is hoped that separated parents will adhere to this guidance and no ‘surge’ in cases of this nature will occur.”
For further information on how the courts are operating across Scotland see the Coronavirus guidance, orders and directions on the Scotcourts web site.2 likes