Julie Doyle attends in Person at Manchester CJC

Julie Doyle represented the local authority at the first Family Law hearing to be listed at Manchester Civil Justice Centre since the COVID-19 lockdown where all parties were in attendance in person.

In advance of the hearing the court prepared and sent to the parties a case plan which included scheduled arrival times for each person. Security staff had PPE and there was clear signage and floors decals. Hand sanitiser was available at the door prior to entering the building and subsequently prior to entering the court room.

Upon arrival each party and where applicable, their legal representatives were allocated individual conference rooms with a maximum of two people per room. Court staff were on hand to guide all parties through the floor in a way which would limit contact with others.

The Court clerk coordinated who was to sit where in court. A larger court room was used so there was sufficient space for social distancing to be safely implemented.

The legal representatives and those parties who appeared in person used the court room to come together for pre-hearing discussions given the limitation of two people to a conference room. Legal representatives and litigants in person were spread across the front two benches to ensure maximum distancing. The lay clients were sat at the sides in view of their advocates in case instructions needed to be provided.

HMCTS are due to release risk assessments for court buildings this week and no doubt further guidance will follow in due course. Whilst we are not expecting an immediate return to in person hearings it does mean that progress is being made with regards to hearing those most urgent or complex hearings where remote hearings are not suitable or appropriate. The Courts are not going to be in a position to re-open all Court rooms and they will have to decide based upon the facts of individual cases which cases should be prioritised.