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Coronavirus Kent: Family court judge asks parents to be sensible during pandemic

Kent's top family judge has made a plea for divorced or separated parents to set aside personal grievances during the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the problems caused by the virus, Judge Richard Scarratt - and his colleagues - have worked from home to ensure cases are heard.

HisHonour Judge Richard Scarratt. Picture: Chris Davey.(32447444)
HisHonour Judge Richard Scarratt. Picture: Chris Davey.(32447444)

In an exclusive interview with KentOnline, he said: "We are living in strange and anxious time but families should be assured that the courts are open for business even if that involves me sitting in my study conducting remote hearings using conferencing calls and Skype.

"We are keeping on top of urgent applications and cases listed for a day."

He added that cases scheduled to take longer will have to be adjourned for some weeks or even months.

Kent's Designated Family Judge said that with the co-operation of both parents cases were being heard without more trauma for children.

The most senior judge in the country has urged that, in these difficult times, for parents to use their common sense and not retain children when they shouldn't do, using the pandemic as an excuse.

"The court staff ensured that fair hearings ensued to the benefit of all, not least the children involved..."

"On the whole parents are being very sensible, although there are one or two parents who want to make a nuisance. Judges are attempting to keep the show on the road as best they can.

"We would ask the public to ask themselves if their application in respect of children really necessary at the moment. That is my plea."

Contact Centres, where estranged parents and children could meet are "on the whole" closed and judges are asking family members to supervise visits by a parent if possible in the context of self-isolation or to use suitable remote facilities such as Skype or Facetime.

The judge reported that despite having to work from his study "I completed a full list of cases thanks to modern technology and the good sense of the parties."

He added: "No-one had to attend court and the parties, their representatives and the court staff ensured that fair hearings ensued to the benefit of all, not least the children involved."

He's encouraging parents not to use the pandemic as an excuse
He's encouraging parents not to use the pandemic as an excuse

One difficulty faced by judges involve people who represent themselves, known as Litigants In Person.

He added: "Fortunately through the BT conferencing system, the judge can join them in [ring them back]. I have sat for the past four days and dealt with them remotely."

The judge said he hoped that by the end of June some semblance of normality will return then "we may well be able to learn from how we are dispensing justice now with the use of technology and make our service to the public even more efficient."

Kent's family courts at Maidstone, Canterbury, Medway and Dartford are being operated by a skeleton staff - their work in the current situation is described by the judge as “truly remarkable.”

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