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Latest Family Court statistics show increasing delays

Date:28 JUN 2018
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The Ministry of Justice has released its quarterly Family Court Statistics, for the period January-March 2018.

Key points to note include:
  • A decrease in number of cases starting in Family courts (down 4% on January to March 2017, due to falls in adoption, financial remedy, Private law and matrimonial cases)
  • On average, care proceedings took longer with 7% fewer disposals within 26 weeks compared to 2017.
  • Private law applications and disposals down 5% and 7% respectively compared with the same period of 2017.
  • Divorce petitions were down by 4% on the previous year but timeliness increased, with the average time to Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute up 3 weeks (to 27 weeks) and 2 weeks (to 51 weeks) respectively.
  • A 2% increase in the number of domestic violence remedy applications, with an 7% increase in the number of orders made.
  • The number of adoption applications and orders continued a downward trend (decreases of 11% and 10% respectively).
  • A continued increase in applications and orders made in relation to deprivation of liberty.
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Jo Edwards, Partner and Head of Family at Forsters LLP comments:

'The latest Family Court quarterly statistics come at an interesting time for family justice, with the impact of the legal aid cuts 5 years ago continuing to be felt; but also now the effects of the courts modernisation programme. Although the move to online divorce and increasing digitisation is welcome, the reality is that the pace of change is too rapid and the effect of the swathes of court closures there have been in recent years is huge delay in the system. 

The long-awaited impact assessment of the cuts is underway. The Justice Select Committee has emphasised that “access to justice is a fundamental pillar upon which our international reputation is built”; and stressed the need for early intervention and advice to help people as soon as possible after they encounter legal problems, to avoid the damaging consequences of more complex legal issues and to avoid greater costs being incurred later down the line by society as a whole. Few involved in the family justice sector would disagree. The Public Accounts Committee will produce a report shortly following its inquiry into the courts modernisation programme, and it is expected that it will be critical of the way in which the MoJ and HMCTS have approached reform with too much emphasis on costs-cutting and not enough on access to justice.

For now, family practitioners everywhere will not be surprised by the worrying trends revealed by the latest stats; and will wish to work with HMCTS and officials to ensure that we are properly supporting those many people who need to use the family courts every month.’