With recent news that the Court of Appeal is to stop hearing all appeals and challenges to decisions made in local family courts is this yet another sign that the family court is now at crisis point?
The statistics are stark –
- There has been a 10% increase in overall cases started in family courts in England and Wales year-on-year,
- A 16% increase in the number of private law applications being issued between April 2016 and June 2016 in comparison to the same period and quarter in 2015,
- The number of care proceedings (public law) case issued has increased by 24% over the last 12 months,
- The average time for the disposal of divorce cases with financial remedy applications to be considered has been steadily increasing from 20.5 weeks at the start of 2015 to now on average 24.9 weeks in the period April to June 2016.
Given the limited availability of legal aid funding for most types of family case, there are many more people now than ever before going to court without a solicitor or legal representative (“litigants in person”) and the Family Court statistics show that in 30% of private law cases, between April and June 2016, neither the person applying nor the person responding were legally represented.
The knock on consequence of that development is that where one or both parties to a case are without representation, it falls to the judge in the case and the court to provide help, guidance and assistance such so as to make progress. This clearly can be only add to the time it takes to hear and progress a case through the system.
As the Family Division President James Munby has commented, in relation to the issuing of care proceedings, “I [have drawn] attention to the seemingly relentless rise in the number of new care cases. The fact is that we are approaching a crisis for which we are ill-prepared and where there is no clear strategy to manage the crisis. What is to be done?”
“What is to be done?”
The family court and the Ministry of Justice have already started to implement some changes – divorce petitions for example are now issued out of regional divorce centres (in the North East the local regional divorce centre is that found in Durham), and much is made of “modernising” by making applications online and undertaking work entirely remotely and away from physically having to then be at court. Whether an online system will work remains to be seen and will not be the answer to all cases.
It clearly remains vital regardless of what happens next that individuals continue to be able to access timely and affordable advice; getting early advice and help can often to set you on the right course of action and being made aware of all the available options including mediation other than simply going to court can help to resolve issues more quickly and amicably.
As this news item suggests, delays in hearing cases require timely advice and action. Should you require the services of Prism Family Law for any family law related matter please do not hesitate to contact solicitor Andrew Wraith in the first instance. Prism Family Law offers a free initial consultation.