Families continue to be victims of a broken justice system
By Law News
The continued delays in the family courts mean families are the victims of a broken justice system, the Law Society of England and Wales warned today (29 September).
This warning comes as quarterly statistics from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for April to June 2023 show a family justice system struggling under the pressure of increasing backlogs.
Private children law cases – where families apply for arrangements regarding where their children live and who they have contact with – were taking on average 47 weeks during April to June 2023, up almost three weeks on the same period last year. This continues the upward trend we have seen over the last seven years, since the middle of 2016.
Additionally, there were 13,080 new private law applications during this period, with 19,393 individual children involved in these applications.
“The unprecedented backlog in the family court system continues to delay justice for countless families and children,” said Law Society of England and Wales President Lubna Shuja.
“Rising court delays further exacerbate the uncertainty that families face when seeking justice. These families are already under immense pressure as they start court proceedings. By delaying the process, the courts are worsening this strain.
“Thousands of children are being left in limbo, as they wait almost a year for decisions about their future, such as who they will live with and who can have contact with them. The impact of delayed justice can cause significant harm to the wellbeing of children, as well as their parents.”
There are also a high number of litigants in person (LiPs) – parties without representation. The statistics show that the number of cases where neither party had legal representation has trebled since January to March 2013. This was during a time when we saw large areas of legal aid cuts. That figure now stands at 40%.
Lubna Shuja concluded: “Cuts to legal aid have driven up the number of people who have no choice but to represent themselves through highly stressful legal proceedings, where life changing decisions are likely to be made.
“Legal aid for early legal advice must be reinstated so families can be supported in the court system. With early legal advice, families have the support they need at an early stage. This would also make a cost-effective contribution to resolving the backlogs in the family courts.”