A child law and mental health expert at one of the region’s top law firms has hit back over claims that child protection could be compromised for the long term, due to courts being closed during the COVID-19 lockdown and a suggestion that more cases could be heard remotely after the pandemic ends.
GHP Legal, one the Legal 500 top-ranking law firms in England and Wales, has continued to represent clients across North Wales and Shropshire throughout the lockdown period. Partner, Natalie Roberts, believes adequate protection is and can still be provided, both during the current coronavirus crisis and in the long term. The key, she says, is for solicitors to make it clear to the judiciary when the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged clients cannot be met by virtual hearings.
“This has been a difficult time for everyone,” says Natalie, “and the Court system has had to adapt to remote hearings very quickly. In urgent cases the Court has had to balance the rights of the parents and parties to a fair hearing against protecting children from significant harm, and this is by no means an easy feat.
“As we have regularly seen on television, remote interviews can be conducted very successfully, or they can go badly wrong for a variety of reasons. Having to resort to technology which has been similarly unreliable at times, the Court has had to cope with the added difficulty of lay parties not having access to the internet or smart phones.
“There is no doubt that when remote hearings have worked well they have saved time for advocates and parties, both in respect of travel time and court time. With discussions taking place in advance, the process has also been more efficient. Continuing to take this route post coronavirus could therefore be advantageous, but it can never be a one-size fits all process.
“There are clearly cases where remote hearings are not suitable, including where parties have cognitive limitations which prevent them from following hearings effectively by remote means. It is therefore down to legal representatives to know their clients, recognise their individual needs and ensure the court acts in the most appropriate way.”