REMOTE HEARINGS: ZOOM PLATFORM USED, AND WORKED: ALSO AN ENTRY FOR THE OPENING LINE OF JUDGMENT CONTEST: “FAMILY LAW CRAVES FINALITY”

In LB v DB [2020] EWFC B34 (OJ) Deputy District Judge Hodson expressed his dissatisfaction with telephone hearings, but found that a zoom hearing worked.  This has not been a platform viewed with favour by the court authorities, yet appears to have been satisfactory in this case.   The judge also had something to say about the finality of judgments…

 

THE CASE

The judge was hearing an application by a former wife to vary the terms of a financial order.  In starting the judgment he observed:-

“It was listed before me as a one-day hearing on 29 May 2020, obviously during the period of the lockdown.  I had conducted some previous hearings remotely as a deputy by telephone as was preferred at that stage.  I record I found them thoroughly unsatisfactory and very hard to produce a semblance of justice in my opinion.  I had therefore arranged by agreement for this hearing to be via zoom, far more satisfactory, and counsels’ clerk recorded and set up and I was grateful.  As it happened, the hearing was very largely argument between counsel and me with little involvement of the parties.  There was little need for taking of instructions on factual matters which were mostly agreed.  I was not willing to adjourn until face-to-face hearings were available, and as we now know will not be available for many months.  It was not possible to conclude a judgment on the day but in any event I had indicated that with a complex issue of law I needed to consider”

 

OPENING LINE OF THE JUDGMENT

“Family law craves finality.  It is woven throughout legislation and case law.  Parties involved in family law litigation want the daytime nightmare to end; not so much the fact of separation, relationship breakdown or difficult financial arrangements but the end to the litigation itself.  The paying party desperately seeks the premium of a clean break, the avoidance of continued variation applications to the court and an end to dealings with the other spouse.  Family law, perhaps more than any other area of law, is close to the psychological, therapeutic and psychodynamic aspects of the work and is aware of the mental health and well-being benefits of closure and moving on.  Parliament recognised the need for finality in 1984, after Law Commission recommendations, with the power to impose a clean break.  Judges such as Lord Justice Thorpe and others took steps to reduce the opportunities for appeals in family law cases; there are restrictive provisions on when permission is needed and will be allowed.  The FDR in English law has been so successful because it has prevented many cases otherwise going on even longer with higher costs.  English family law has scandalous instances of grossly disproportionate costs, at all levels of the wealth spectrum, and sensible parties seek the end of the costs haemorrhage by the finality of the dispute.  All family lawyers have had cases where a party has accepted a quite disadvantageous settlement simply to bring long-running litigation to an end.  And so many other instances of desperately seeking finality.  Family law wants finality”