High Court judge Mr Justice Peter Jackson has issued a special judgement recording the use of video conferencing software Skype in two international family cases.
In the first, a British couple applied to adopt an 11 year-old Tibetan girl. They had originally encountered her while visiting Nepal and found her to be “in a pitiful state”. Initial attempts to help in Nepal ran into problems so they brought her back to England on an education visa. She adapted well and “thrived” in her new situation. Eventually the couple applied to adopt her.
The application came before Mr Justice Jackson. Although the couple claimed the girl’s parents were in favour of the adoption, the judge was “mindful of cases in which enquiries have shown that children have been brought to this country with false histories” and so ordered that the girl’s parents be contacted in order to confirm their consent to the adoption.
Following initial difficulties locating the parents, the girl’s legal guardian hired a Nepalese lawyer who spoke the parents’ language and he was sent a translation of the adoption documents. The poverty-stricken parents, who had separated, came to the lawyers office on separate occasions for interviews and to sign the consent documents via thumbprint.
The girl’s legal guardian and her UK solicitor viewed the interviews and document signing via Skype and photos were also taken.
Mr Justice Jackson noted:
“This process satisfied me that the parents had freely and unconditionally consented to the adoption, and also that they had received no financial inducement. It has also provided a record for the child of her parents’ participation and support for an adoption that she very much wants.”
The second case concerned a mother’s application to relocate from England to her native Columbia with her six year-old son. The case required evidence from a witness in that country, but the woman lived in a remote location with few facilities available, so the mother’s solicitors applied for the witness to be allowed to give her evidence via Skype.
Mr Justice Jackson notes his response:
“I refused this application, as I have done in other circumstances. The technology can be very effective for informal use, but does not lend itself to the court environment. There are problems in everyone seeing and hearing the picture and in the evidence being recorded. There are also issues about security. I would not be willing to use this method if there was any alternative.”
However, a solution was found in a system which linked the Skype call directly to the court’s ISDN broadband connection, providing some security during the conversation.
The witness gave her evidence using this system and the “quality of the link was adequate” according to the judge. The method also proved to be significantly cheaper than a regular ISDN international link, he noted.