A Creative Solution for Virtual Court Rooms
When the COVID-19 global pandemic came along and the courts closed their doors we came up with an innovative idea.
We had been talking about Virtual Court Rooms for a while but the deciding factor during the pandemic was about making sure parents had fair access to justice, as many of them could not access technology.
As our offices closed, we thought why not use them for Virtual Court Rooms?
We created two court rooms with all the ICT kit to link them up so parents didn’t need to travel as far to get access to the court system on a virtual and remote basis. There was collaboration with our ICT and legal colleagues as well as liaison with the judiciary and CAFCASS. Corporate colleagues in the council fast tracked and prioritised the expertise, resources, time and commitment to support Children’s Services and made it happen. This was part of our COVID-19 business continuity planning process to ensure vital services could continue to be delivered.
Our local Judge has been very proactive and supportive. He held a mock trial with actors playing the role of parents, with one of our social workers giving evidence and being cross examined by legal advisors and counsel. All of our social workers and managers were invited to view the mock trial as part of a learning and development session and we had a Q&A session afterwards. We received really positive feedback from staff about how invaluable this experience had been.
We also ask every parent who comes into the Virtual Court Room for their feedback. The majority have said they prefer a Virtual Court Room to the actual court as they feel less judged. Social workers love that they don’t have to travel as much and they can get on with work in between court sessions so find it an efficient use of time. Word got around in the region and we had other local authorities asking us to share our learning and experience - and even asking if they can use our Virtual Court Rooms.
We are really proud of our Virtual Court Rooms and want to promote them as a model of best practice. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been so difficult and challenging in so many different ways we feel this is a really positive development. It’s something that we are likely to want to retain as part of our recovery and reset work as we move forward with our ‘new normal’.