In a remarkably quick amount of time the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory has produced a “rapid consultation” Remote hearings in the family justice system. It is available on a link here.

The report is worth reading in full. One point I want to look at here is the issue of tiredness and fatigue arising from remote hearings.



The report was written in response to a request from the President of the Family Division. The consultation ran for a two-week period from 14 to 28 April 2020 and well over 1,000 people responded.


The results show both positive and negative aspects. People are glad not to be travelling, for instance.  However there has been a major theme running through many responses that “virtual” hearings are much more demanding and tiring on all those involved.

“5.1 Tiredness and impact on physical and mental health
Increased levels of tiredness were commonly cited by respondents. Remote hearings were
described as ‘tiring’ and ‘exhausting’ because of the concentration required to undertake
telephone and video hearings.
The process of hearing cases remotely is exhausting. It takes additional
concentration. Voices are suffering from having to speak loudly into the speaker
phone (Judge).
Constantly being on audio and often having to shout because of the poor quality of
the transmissions is draining (Judge).
The hearings are very tiring to do as a judge. Sitting staring at a screen and
concentrating hard on a sometimes faint and crackly line is draining (Judge).
The additional work involved in setting up remote hearings was also a factor.
Everything takes longer. Setting up the hearing is time-consuming—getting and
keeping everyone on the line (up to eight is not unusual) and going through the initial
‘script’ takes a good 10 minutes or more. DJs don’t have clerks, so we have to do all
this. The telephone hearings also take longer after they start in earnest. The ability to
use non-verbal communication to see what needs further exploration/what is
conceded or agreed, is lost. It is important to ask everyone to contribute several
times, to make sure they are still on the line, have responded where they need to
respond, have understood what is going on (Judge).
I have found myself working from 8am until after 12 midnight (and through to 3am)
on several days simply to keep the system ticking over. I am not convinced that this
can be maintained over several months (Judge).
It takes considerably longer to set up and then to conduct hearings and this is not
accommodated in the time estimates for the listing of cases (Judge).
Clerks are non-existent so judges are overwhelmed with all the administrative work
they will have to do. The DFJ is contacting advocates (Judge).
My productivity is nothing like it is normally. For example, whilst 6-7 FHDRAs is
possible (though not necessarily desirable) in a normal list, I think four would be the
maximum by telephone: one hour for each (instead of 45 mins) with 15 mins in
between. A double-listed small claims back-to-back list consisting of 6-8 hours per
judge in a three-hour listing slot (our normal way of keeping up with the small claims
case load) just wouldn’t work by phone or Skype (Judge).
Business as usual approach is largely unrealistic and places a huge strain on the
judiciary. One example is that the Magistrates cannot work remotely, therefore their
work has been taken on by other levels of full-time judiciary. District judges are
struggling to deal with their box work and full lists with a mix of family and civil
Some respondents said that they had been experiencing headaches due to eyestrain from
more hours spent looking at a screen.
In all cases I have had concerns about my health. I have now been working fully
remotely since 23 March 2020 (a period of five weeks). In that time my eyesight has
definitely deteriorated from peering at a screen for such long hours and I have had
more headaches than normal (Barrister).
Some highlighted the impact on emotional well-being and mental health.
My morale as a judge is lower. I didn’t sign up to this job because I wanted to spend
all day, every day on the phone and in front of a computer screen; quite the reverse.
The job is always rather a lonely one—more so than ever now (Judge).
Well-being has gone out the window completely (Barrister).
In short, this is stressing me out in a way I never encountered in all my years in
practice and as a judge, and my work and quality of decision making is
suffering…Fewer cases must be listed, or else judges will start going off sick (Judge).
One advocate who is partially deaf noted the particular difficulties face by some managing
telephone only hearings:
I personally have found the process of remote working far more stressful than I had
anticipated. It is riven with anxiety and so if I as a professional experience this it is
must be amplified for the parents whom I represent (Barrister).”