Family court system still facing significant backlogs and delays
Newly released family court statistics show that family law courts are still facing significant backlogs, delays and issues with judicial capacity.*
“We have long voiced our concern about the delays in the family courts – which pre-date the pandemic. Delays can cause significant harm as well as uncertainty for the parties involved,” said our president Lubna Shuja.
"Private children’s law cases were taking on average 45 weeks in July to September 2022, five weeks longer than the same period in 2021.
“HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has previously estimated that it may take three years to return to pre-pandemic levels, which is very worrying, particularly for cases that concern children and sensitive family matters.
“The UK government must ensure that there are sufficient fee-paid and full-time judges to deal with existing and new caseloads.
“Solicitors working in family law continue to report the high number of litigants in person (LiPs) – parties without representation. This is no surprise since cuts to legal aid have driven up the number of people who have no choice but to represent themselves through often highly stressful legal proceedings.”
The latest statistics show that the number of cases where neither party had legal representation was 39 per cent, increasing by 26 per cent since January to March 2013 and up two per cent from July to September 2021.
Lubna Shuja added: “In most cases, LiPs require more time and support from the court, which is likely to slow down the system and increase overall costs. Re-instating legal aid for early advice would make a cost-effective contribution to resolving the backlogs in the family courts.
“Restoring early legal advice for family law cases would also mean fewer cases would go to court. Instead, solicitors could assist negotiated settlements, refer clients to mediation and better manage client expectations.
“The family courts are under immense pressure, and people with private law cases are experiencing unprecedented and unacceptable delays.”
Statistics for July to September 2022 show there were an estimated 65,691 new family law cases, similar to the same quarter in 2021.
This was due to decreases in cases concerning financial remedy (20%), public law (2%), adoption and private law (both 1%), which were offset by increases in cases involving matrimonial (8%) and domestic violence (2%).
On 6 April, the family law system saw its biggest change in 50 years when ‘no-fault’ divorce came into effect.
Under the new law there were 28,921 divorce applications, an increase of 8% on the same quarter in 2021. 77% were from sole applicants, and 23% were from joint applicants, including those for the dissolution of civil partnership.
Under the old divorce law, there were 19,782 decree absolutes, down 28% on the same quarter in 2021.
The average time for divorce proceedings under the old divorce legislation was 43 weeks, up 19 weeks from the same quarter in 2021.
Lubna Shuja concluded: “We are pleased this crucial ‘no-fault’ divorce legislation is now in force and being used, so that separating couples can divorce as amicably as possible.
“We will continue to monitor how the new law is used in the courts system.”
Notes to editors
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