Justice delayed: family law cases continue to spiral

Official family court statistics for April to June 2021 published on 30 September show there were an estimated 66,357 new family law cases – up 14% compared to the same period in 2020.

Meanwhile there were 26,301 divorce petitions filed* – with divorce petitions and matrimonial cases up 7% while domestic violence cases were down 6% compared to last year.

Yet the Office for National Statistics found there were 206,492 domestic-abuse related violence instances between March and June 2020, a 9% increase compared to the same period in 2019.**

“Our concerns about the significant backlogs in the family court pre-date the pandemic. However, the existing problems have been compounded in the last 18 months,” said Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“The impact on timeliness also continues to be felt, particularly in delays to care proceedings. Delays can themselves cause significant harms as well as uncertainty for the parties involved.

“It has previously been estimated by the HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) that it may take three years to return to pre-pandemic levels, which is a great cause for concern.

“From the outset, we’ve said the UK government must maximise existing court capacity, boosting it through Nightingale courts to allow more in-person hearings to take place safely.

“The UK government must ensure so far as possible that there are sufficient fee-paid and full-time judges to deal with existing and new caseloads.

“There is also no mention of data on litigants in person (LiPs) – parties without representation – in the latest statistics.

“It is common knowledge to those practising family law that there are an increased number of LiPs in the court systems. However, the data we have on the number of LiPs is poor and misrepresents the impact they have on the justice system.

“In most cases, LiPs have no choice but to represent themselves and as such, impact court time and resources and make the provision of representation under legal aid contracts a cost-effective solution to the backlogs.

“It would also enable the most efficient use of court capacity across the country. Although this is not within the control of the courts, it is a key concern that should continue to be raised by the sector.”

Notes to editors

* Family court statistics quarterly: April to June 2021

** Read the Office for National Statistics report

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