08 Sep Virtual Courtrooms facing challenges
Like every industry, and jurisdiction of law in the past 18 months, the Family Court, now virtual Courtroom, is facing challenges.
If you are one of the millions of workers worldwide who have been forced to transition into “work from home” arrangements during the COVID-19 health pandemic, you are likely familiar with the challenges – tech troubles, needy pets, homeschooling children, finding your last shred of motivation to get dressed for that Zoom meeting.
From as early in the outbreak as March 2020, the Family Courts have been forced to conducting hearings by way of telephone (AAPT teleconferencing) and online platforms such as Microsoft Teams. As with any professional workplace, the expectation, of course, is that participants attending these “virtual Courtrooms”, would treat the process as seriously as they would if their matter were physically before a Judge.
In a media release by the Family Court on 22 April 2020, titled “Practitioner and Litigant Guide to Virtual Hearings and Microsoft Teams”, the Court asked that, litigants appearing by way of Teams:
- Behave and present themselves in a manner which they would if they were attending Court in person.
- Address the Judge as “Your Honour” and address the Barristers politely and courteously.
- Be alone in a quiet room, free from interruptions and distractions.
You know, behaviour that would normally be regarded as common sense. Well, apparently not for everyone.
In the recently published decision of Fowles & Fowles  FamCA 368 (9 June 2021), Justice Victoria Bennett set out, in great detail, disruptions she endured at the hands of the Respondent Husband, Mr Fowles (pseudonym) during a hearing she conducted by way of Microsoft Teams in October 2020, such as the Husband:
- Sitting with his feet up in front of the camera.
- Peeling a banana whilst being cross examined by the Barrister for the Applicant Wife.
- Reading a newspaper during the course of the hearing.
- Changing his screen name to “Victim”; and
- Repeatedly winking at the Barrister for the Applicant Wife.
In her Judgement, Justice Bennett also stated that the Husband should have known better than to peel a banana whilst being cross-examined, as he had already been rebuked for taking a box of chocolates in the witness box with him during a previous trial!
The mind boggles!