As a result of the Coronavirus and Government lockdown measures, the majority of Family Court hearings are now taking place remotely.
Remote hearings are not a new idea, but their use has expanded massively as the nation battens down the hatches in these unprecedented times.
Services for remote hearings
There are a number of apps and online services that enable remote hearings to take place, including (among others): Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and Facetime. Remote hearings can also take place via telephone conference facilities.
Despite some initial teething problems, it would seem that these hearings have been going ahead relatively smoothly.
Are remote hearings secure?
The above being said, the usual caveats that relate to any IT/software apply:
- Is privacy being sufficiently protected?
- Do settings on the app being used have to be manually amended in order to make the remote hearing truly private?
- What information is being recorded about users, and can this information be sold/transferred to third parties?
Concerns for domestic abuse victims
A major concern for victims of domestic abuse in the Family Court regarding remote hearings will also be the risk posed by potentially having their location revealed as a result of the remote hearing itself: either by the way the app itself works, or by the video showing certain parts of the room/property where the victim is, which could lead to the location being identified by the perpetrator.
In the case of victims whose abuse has involved controlling behaviour by electronic means, perpetrators with the relevant IT skills may potentially be able to exploit information from the remote hearing app to pinpoint the location of a refuge, or other property that should be kept entirely confidential.
These risks are likely to be exacerbated by the lack of detailed scrutiny of each specific app by IT security experts, prior to their adoption in Family Court hearings which are (with certain exceptions) held in private.
Safety is a priority
It is therefore vital that the appropriate steps are taken to ensure remote hearings in Family Court cases do not compromise the safety of domestic abuse victims. A suitable solution may be for the victim to attend the remote hearing in a separate room provided by his/her family lawyer.
If you need help
If you are in immediate danger from an abuser, you should always call 999. If you cannot speak out loud, you can then press 55, which will confirm that the call is a genuine emergency.
At Slater Heelis, our family lawyers are specialists regarding domestic abuse and obtaining protective orders. To speak with a member of the team, please call 0161 969 3131 or contact us via our website at https://www.slaterheelis.co.uk/family-law/.