Sub-standard facilities could frustrate plans to modernise the family courts


This week’s Labour Party conference has been told that ageing technology is likely to stymie proposals to bring about a “digital revolution” in the family courts.

Senior members of the judiciary have long been pushing for a radical change in the way that the courts operate, with a belief that more could be done to harness advances.

Delegates in Brighton, including the Shadow Attorney General, Shami Chakrabati, and Shadow Justice Secretary, Richard Burgon, were told by family law practitioners that some family courts in London do not even have access to Wi-Fi, while video links are notoriously unreliable.

The discussion came only a few days after Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division, told a conference in London that the legal sector had to embrace new ways of working.

While Sir James admitted that not every case would be suitable for an online hearing – with care cases likely to pose particular challenges – he did believe that online technology would have a greater role to play in future.

“When faced with the choice of opening a laptop in the kitchen, and talking to a Judge via Skype; or running the gauntlet of travelling to a crumbling court building which may be many miles away – what do you think the litigant would prefer?”

He also believed that courts needed to do more to embrace electronic file management.

“If we lose the current opportunity we will still be on paper files when you’re coming up to your retirement,” he told the family lawyers in the audience.

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