How to put your best foot forward at an electronic (remote) Court hearing

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges and restrictions, not least of all to separated families going through the Family Courts. For a system that is often criticised, and subject to numerous reviews and commissions, the Family Courts should be praised on this occasion for the steps that they have taken to ensure families still have access to “justice”, during these troubled times. 

By Melissa Muir, Accredited Family Law Specialist and Principal Lawyer at Australian Family Lawyers (Melbourne).

The Family Courts have been quick to implement remote court hearings by telephone and video calls, ensuring that even though we have to practice social distancing, decisions can still be made to progress cases and to ensure the best interests of children are met.

So whilst lawyers and litigants can now attend a virtual courtroom from the comfort of their lounge room or kitchen table, people still need to be mindful of the formality and seriousness of the proceedings. This is not a video call with friends and family and the same etiquette and standards apply, as if you were in the Court room. 

Virtual courtroom tips for attending electronic Court hearings in the new era:

man in home office attending virtual courtroom

  1. Make sure you find a quiet area

    Find an area where you have privacy and will not be disturbed by others, particularly not by children. Whilst not ideal, even sitting in your car may be the best place if you are unable to find a quiet space in your home.

  2. Dress the part

    If appearing via video, make sure that you are dressed in comfortable, yet appropriate, neat and respectful clothing. You are attending Court, so wear what you would wear if you were attending the Court in person.  You wouldn’t wear your dirty, torn work-clothes, nor a dressing gown and slippers into Court, so don’t wear them during a video hearing.

  3. Think about what is in your background.

    The Judge doesn’t want to see your dirty washing, or your unmade bed (or even your made bed for that matter).  It can also be very distracting for the Judge, when they are having to consider serious issues that can affect you and your children. Best to have a clean and tidy background. Some video platforms offer customised backgrounds, however even they can be distracting and can cut out parts of the user, such as ears and hair.  A plain wall may be the best and simplest option.

  4. Mute etiquette

    Whether appearing via telephone or video, make sure your microphone is muted when you are not speaking. This will avoid background noise, which can make it very hard for everyone to hear the person who is speaking. 

  5. But remember…

    Unmute yourself when you are speaking.

  6.  Own headphones?

    Headphones with a microphone are preferable, as they block out a lot of background noise and make it clearer to hear the Judge and others during the hearing, as well as projecting your voice better.

  7. Keep a straight face

    During a video call, you are more visible to the Judge than if you attended Court in person. The Judge can therefore see every expression and facial movement you make. Making faces when the other party is speaking will not be viewed favourably by the Judge. Keep a straight face, regardless of what is being said, even if you disagree.

  8. Test out the technology

    The Courts are encouraging litigants to contact the Court in the days leading up to the remote court hearing to test out the use of the technology, particularly for video hearings, to ensure that everyone knows how to use the technology prior to the hearing.

  9. Finally, be prepared

    It will often help to contact the other side in the days leading up to the hearing to discuss any matters that may be consented to, and to help narrow the issues in dispute.

Whilst the use of technology may sound daunting, the virtual courtroom is a great initiative by the Courts to assist families during these unprecedented times. At Australian Family Lawyers, we’ve been embracing technology for many years now to connect with our clients, many of whom are interstate or overseas. 

At the forefront of these advances, Australian Family Lawyers can assist you with your family law issue and guide you through the new electronic Court system with confidence.

Do you have a question about family law or relationship law?

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