Skype in Family Proceedings

The firm recently acted in proceedings under the Children Act 1989. The case involved a child who lived in England but was born to a French father and English mother. The father sought contact with the child, including direct contact in France and England during holiday periods.

Thankfully, the parties were able to reach an agreement upon the above with assistance from the court. It was also recognised by both parents that as direct contact would be limited, indirect contact via Skype would be a valuable way of maintaining contact between the child and the father.

Skype and other forms of webcam contact offer a key advantage over ‘traditional’ indirect contact such as telephone calls, letters/cards and email. The ability for the child and the parent to see each other and interact spontaneously is fantastic, especially when parents live some distance apart. Of course, Skype cannot replace direct, face-to-face contact, but it is probably the next best thing.

As with all forms of contact though, care and thought needs to be taken over practicalities. The case referred to above threw up the following issues:

• Who is to initiate the Skype contact?
• When will take place and at what time?
• What happens if technical issues make Skype contact impossible?

More recently, the High Court has shown a willingness to embrace Skype as a platform by which witnesses living outside of England and Wales can give evidence. In a recent case the High Court was asked to make an adoption order for a 11 year old girl of Tibetan Mongolian origin.

During the course of the proceedings it was necessary for the parents’ consent to the adoption to be sought. Whilst the girl resided in England, her parents remained in Nepal. The solution identified to obtain their consent was Skype. The parents were able to attend at a lawyer’s office in Nepal and the process of them giving consent to the adoption was witnessed by the child’s Guardian and solicitor via Skype.

However, caution remains over the use of Skype as a means of obtaining/giving evidence in family proceedings. In another recent case, a mother wished to permanently remove her 6 year old son from England to Columbia. Evidence was needed from a witness in Columbia and the mother’s solicitors asked for permission for that evidence to be given via Skype. The court originally rejected that request owing to concerns that the picture of the witness would not be visible to everybody and that Skype itself would not be secure.

The solution identified, and approved by the court, was for an IT company to install a bridge between the witness using Skype and the IT system used by the court. This technology provided protection against hacking and ensured that the quality of the video link between the witness and the court was adequate.