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(Deposit photos)
(Deposit photos)

Divorces go online in Britain amid pandemic

The head of the U.K. family court division, which handles marriage break-ups and other domestic disputes, said Thursday that all hearings should be held remotely using video chat and other technology to help cut the risk of coronavirus infections.

Exceptions should only be allowed if there are compelling reasons of fairness or if it’s deemed safe to hold a hearing in person, Andrew MacFarlane, president of the division, said in a statement on the new guidelines.

“There is a strong public interest in the Family Justice System continuing to function as normally as possible despite the present pandemic,” MacFarlane said. At the same time, he said, “there is a need for all reasonable and sensible precautions to be taken to prevent infection and, in particular, to avoid non-essential personal contact.”

The move comes as the British government denied it is planning to confine Londoners to their homes and ban them from leaving the capital. Cases continued to soar in Europe and the U.K. response has been criticized as too lax.

Amanda Pinto, chair of the U.K. Bar, said that she welcomed the advice.

“Please spread this to as many people as you can in the justice system so that no one is under any illusion about what the default position is,” said Pinto.

Swiss shutdown

Switzerland’s top criminal court has suspended all hearings and closed its buildings to the public until further notice as the tribunal acts to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The halt in proceedings at the Federal Criminal Court is in effect until further notice, a spokeswoman for the court said on Thursday. While the court was issuing decisions up until Wednesday, the last dated from a sitting on March 17.

The move follows the decision last week by the Swiss supreme court to suspend its upcoming public hearings to help prevent circulation of the virus among the broader population. The Federal Criminal Court is based in Bellinzona, a 45-minute drive from Italy, making it the Swiss region most vulnerable to the spread of the virus. Switzerland has 2,650 cases so far while Italy has 31,500 and has suffered more than 2,500 deaths.

Human rights court

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, said on Thursday it will still publish judgments and decisions next week as its judges continue their work behind closed doors. The court’s buildings have been closed to the public and all hearings scheduled for March and April have been canceled.

Elsewhere in France

  • To enable prisoners to stay in touch with their families, French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said Thursday that authorities will provide them with 40 euros ($43) of phone credits a month during the lockdown; TV will be also made available freely to prisoners to compensate for the suspension of all activities; the measures will apply starting next week.
  • Belloubet also urged courts to delay the entry into force of short prison sentences; she says this recommendation has already had an impact with about only 30 new prisoners daily in recent days as opposed to an average of 200 under normal circumstances.
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