A NOTE FROM HHJ LYNN ROBERTS
THE DFJ FOR ESSEX AND SUFFOLK
- First, thank you all for everything you are doing to make it possible to continue to provide a service in Essex and Suffolk. This note is to let you know a bit more about the arrangements we are making.
- All the judges are working from home now, as are the magistrates. There are judges on standby to go into Chelmsford, Ipswich and Southend Family Courts if absolutely necessary.
- The President’s Guidance and Mr Justice MacDonald’s paper on remote working (now in its second edition) are the key documents. Locally we are likely to use BT MeetMe and Skype for Business in the immediate future for hearings.
- I do not expect any advocates or their clients to come to court or to meet physically. I recognise that cases with LIPs will have particular difficulties but they will have to be considered on a case by case basis.
- All the judges are triaging their cases and you should hear from the judge/court about cases coming up.
- Care cases which are trial ready may be able to proceed. We are likely thereafter to be able to deal with emergency applications such as EPOs and ICOs and SAOs only, save for those cases which can be dealt with on submissions or which are agreed. This is because the LAs are unlikely to be able to complete the social work and/or legal work necessary to make the cases trial ready.
- Contact with children in care: the LAs are doing what they can and I do not expect to see applications under s34 in most cases.
- Adoption: there is a particular problem with applications following Placement Orders where a parent may wish to seek permission to oppose. I am considering how to deal with these and indeed, am in touch with the President about the issue. Cases which have gone past that stage or are otherwise consensual or straightforward should proceed but the LAs should use advocates instead of social workers for the hearings. Other cases may not become trial ready because of the problems set out above.
- Private law cases – we hope to be able to resolve many more by consent or by short, focussed remote hearings. This is an area I have not yet had much time to focus on but will revert to you. I am hoping that we can direct more towards mediation albeit remotely. The approach set out by the President in the President’s Guidance on compliance with Child Arrangements Orders will be commended to all.
- Cafcass are working from home and are doing their best to continue to advise the court and support families at this time. I am in touch with our local Cafcass managers.
- Family Law Act applications – we expect these to be dealt with remotely. Where we make non-molestation orders we are in most cases going to put the onus on the Respondent to apply to discharge or vary it rather than set a return date. Service will in most cases will have to be remote and I will contact the police to encourage them to accept that as historically when the orders have been breached, they have not. Occupation order applications will also have to be considered on a case by case basis but a realistic approach will be taken bearing in mind the context we are working in. It is unlikely that trials will be able to proceed but a minority which are trial ready may do. We do not expect to receive police disclosure, for example, at the moment.
- Financial remedy applications: we hope that many of these can progress, especially if one or both parties are represented. We have a small working party looking at these at the moment.
- COP: in most cases directions can be agreed. There is regular guidance from the Vice President of the COP which people should read. Judge Lewis should be contacted about particular problems.
- I am in regular touch with the heads of children’s legal services in Essex CC , Southend CC, Thurrock BC and Suffolk CC to consider issues about care cases.
- Representatives of practitioners and I have also now set up regular communications so do feed back to Yvonne Hume, David Wilson, Sarah Duxbury and Tina Harrington anything significant which you need me to address.
- Staff continue to work albeit in smaller numbers; some are working from home. I am hugely impressed by their dedication.
- Things are changing all the time at the moment but may settle down as we get used to working under these circumstances. I propose to prepare a further note when there is more to say. In the meantime, I hope you and your loved ones stay well.
DFJ FOR ESSEX AND SUFFOLK