Use of virtual courts set to rise in family cases

Care applications could be heard in "virtual courts" in the future, according to sector experts.

The plans follow last month's announcement...

Care applications could be heard in “virtual courts” in the future, according to sector experts.

The plans follow last month’s announcement that the government is considering closing more than 100 magistrates and county courts in England and Wales in a bid to cut costs.

Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke said: “Providing access to justice does not necessarily mean providing a courthouse in every town or city.”

Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass, said the family courts body was looking to further embrace technology to meet the interests of children and families involved in proceedings.

Douglas told Community Care that Cafcass was looking at “giving evidence via videolink where suitable, and conducting some interviews via Skype and using technology to ensure children can get their views over.”

He said this would help save money in travel costs. “We also support solving private law cases outside court wherever possible and to facilitate parents to do so,” Douglas said.

However, one senior magistrate, who did not wish to be named, told Community Care that court technology “must improve enormously” before virtual courts can become an asset to family justice. “At the moment the technology is dreadful and is always breaking down.”

Julie Cornes, a solicitor at education and community care law firm MG Law, said plans for better use of technology in court could help vulnerable children to give evidence, but pointed out that face-to-face contact would always be important in many cases.

“Technology has already been a positive influence on Court of Protection cases; the ability for witnesses or children in detention centres to give evidence over video links has been particularly useful,” she said.

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