More than 100,000 children trapped in family courts backlog

New figures* published by the Ministry of Justice show that the family courts continue to face unacceptable backlogs leaving more than 100,000 children, along with their families, at the mercy of a broken justice system.

Private children law cases – where families apply for arrangements relating to where their children live and who they have contact with – took an average of more than 11 months, no better than the same period in 2022.

There were 18,758 individual children involved in new private law applications just between October and December 2023. Overall, there were 78,004 children involved in private family law cases throughout 2023.

Combining both public and private law cases involving children, a total of 103,676 children were trapped in the family courts backlogs over 2023.

Our president Nick Emmerson said: “Tens of thousands of children continue to wait almost a year for decisions about their future which is affecting children and exacerbating uncertainty within families.

“The delays prevent parents from being able to see their children and could mean children are left without the stability they need to thrive.** This must be addressed urgently.

“Restoring early legal advice for family cases would mean fewer cases would have to go to court. Instead, solicitors could help negotiate settlements, refer clients to appropriate forms of alternative dispute resolution and better manage people’s expectations of what the court process may yield.

“We are pleased the UK government decided not to go ahead with mandatory mediation for separating couples and we look forward to feeding into the new early legal advice pilot.” ***

Nick Emmerson concluded: “Our family justice system is on the brink of collapse.

“The dire state of the family courts is evident and the system is plagued with delays. Families and children have been left at the mercy of a broken justice system.

“We urge the government to immediately invest £11.3m in civil legal aid to increase fees for early legal advice. Doing this now would keep the system running while the Civil Legal Aid Review takes place.”

Notes to editors


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