Family court statistics reveal significant backlogs persist
Family law solicitors report numbers of litigants in person remain high
Newly released family court statistics reveal family law courts are still facing significant backlogs, delays and issues with judicial capacity.
Commenting on the statistics, Law Society president Lubna Shuja said: “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”.
Despite mounting pressure on the government to clear backlogs and resolve delays, private children’s law cases were taking on average 45 weeks in the period July to September 2022, which is five weeks longer than the same period in 2021.
Shuja said: “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”.
The Law Society said family law solicitors continue to report high number of litigants in person (LiPs) – parties without representation. “This is no surprise”, said Shuja, “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 the number of cases where neither party had legal representation was 39 per cent, which is an increase of 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.”
With regard to divorce, statistics for July to September 2022 revealed 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 per cent), public law (two per cent), adoption and private law (both one per cent), which were offset by increases in cases involving matrimonial (eight per cent) and domestic violence (two per cent).
On 6 April, ‘no-fault’ divorce came into effect. Under the new law there were 28,921 divorce applications, an increase of eight per cent on the same quarter in 2021. 77 per cent were from sole applicants, while 23 per cent 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 per cent 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.
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.”