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Edward Bennett
Edward Bennett
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Research in Family Law: The Need for Better Statistical Information
Date:1 MAR 2011

John Haskey

Visiting Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford

Over the years I have browsed the volume Judicial and Court Statistics but always found it a frustrating volume, not being able to find exactly what I wanted, or any background. Indeed, the impression I gain from that statistical compendium is that the statistical information has been collated primarily for the purpose of quantifying the caseload of courts and the profile of work of each court. While such information is no doubt important financially, and for planning purposes, the seeming inability to share the same data for research purposes represents an enormously lost opportunity. Important questions such as why certain trends occur and what is ‘best practice' cannot begin to be addressed from such counts.

Furthermore, Judicial and Court Statistics by and large contains only basic counts; there are very few statistical tables in which two or more factors are cross-tabulated. The provision of such cross-tabulations would be the essential first step in trying to examine possible inter-relationships of factors - and possible causative effects. Such two- or three-way analyses should be possible if different variables, ie characteristics, are collected as a combination set on each person or persons who are the subject of the legal event.

I should add that I appreciate that there are many special surveys and studies carried out to answer research questions in family law - often based on detailed examinations of records in a small group of courts - but the lack of a complete national picture against which to compare various key aspects and results is a distinct disadvantage. Furthermore, such studies often have to start from scratch, creating the research study's own database directly from court records.

To read the rest of this article, see February [2011] Family Law journal.

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