First Scottish virtual civil proof

The first Scottish virtual civil proof hearing involving evidence from witnesses is to be held on Monday (15 June 2020).

Arrangements for the case, which concern a father’s application for contact with his children, have involved extensive collaboration between the court service in Scotland and the court service in England and Wales; as well as between the solicitors acting on behalf of the family members.

Steps have been taken to put special measures in place to ensure that a vulnerable witness can give evidence behind a ‘digital screen’. 

A child welfare reporter has met with the children, in an outdoor space, observing social distancing, to obtain their views on their father’s application for contact.

Following careful planning with HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), some witnesses and one party will join the proceedings from an employment tribunal building in England to avoid unnecessary travel.

Aisha Anwar, Sheriff Principal of South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway, who is presiding over the hearing, said: “This is a significant collaborative effort bringing together people from across a broad geographical range into one virtual court.

“The family courts are focussed on making decisions which are in the best interests of children. In some cases an online hearing may be the most appropriate means to enable a decision to be reached as quickly as possible in a safe environment while physical distancing measures are in place.

“I am very grateful to all involved who have worked tirelessly to enable this hearing to proceed. I would particularly like to thank Mr Cooney and Mrs Donnelly who represent each of the parents, and Ms Mulholland who interviewed the children, for their considerable efforts and for their co-operation; and HMCTS staff for providing resources and accommodation to those joining the hearing from England.

“Staff from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service are working extremely hard to ensure that as many types of cases as possible can be heard remotely, and this is another huge step forward.” 

Julia Donnelly, Senior Partner, Livingstone Brown, said: “The justice system is an integral part of any functioning society. The recent pandemic has forced us to find innovative ways of doing business, while at the same time protecting the rights of those involved. I firmly believe that virtual courts, using cutting edge videoconferencing, are a key part of the solution. I’m very grateful to Sheriff Principal Anwar and SCTS staff for identifying this and working so hard to make the concept a reality.”

Brian Cooney, Partner, Fleming and Reid Solicitors, said: “Lockdown has been extremely difficult for children and families, particularly those living apart and it is vitally important that everyone works together to ensure that the courts are able to function to best protect the interests of children.

“Huge credit must go to the SCTS staff and to Sheriff Principal Anwar who has led the way in getting this case up and running.”

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