Increase in number of Family Court cases

Last week the Ministry of Justice published its latest statistics for cases dealt with by the Family Court, for the quarter October to December 2020.

The headline from the statistics was that there were 68,634 new cases started in Family courts in October to December 2020, which was up 6% more than the same quarter in 2019. This was due to increases in most case types: domestic violence (21%), financial remedy (8%), matrimonial (5%) and private law (3%) cases.

On the other hand, the annual figures paint a rather different picture. Annually, there were 264,091 new cases started in Family courts throughout 2020, which was very similar to 2019, when 266,059 new cases were started.

Perhaps the most important figure, however, was the increase in domestic violence (abuse) cases. The number of domestic violence remedy order applications increased by 19% compared to the equivalent quarter in 2019, while the number of orders made increased by 20% over the same period. There were 35,984 applications and 39,427 orders made throughout 2020, up 20% and up 17% respectively from 2019.

These statistics confirm fears of an increase in the incidence of domestic abuse during lockdown, as couples are forced to live together.

The statistics also showed an increase in the average time for divorce proceedings. The mean average time from petition to decree nisi was 30 weeks, and decree absolute was 56 weeks – up 2 weeks and 4 weeks respectively when compared to the equivalent quarter in 2019. The median time to decree nisi and decree absolute was 20 and 39 weeks respectively.

However, once again the annual figures paint a slightly different picture. Throughout 2020 the mean time from petition to decree nisi was 28 weeks and 53 weeks to decree absolute, each down 3 weeks respectively.

A statistician commented on the figures:

“The impact of Covid-19 continues to be seen across family court activity this quarter, with noticeable recovery as work levels return to pre-lockdown levels (seen in the number of new cases started and disposed across most areas since the first lockdown period). The negative impacts on timeliness measures continue, with work progressing to address the impact to the family justice system.

“Domestic violence remedy levels remain high, with substantial increases in both new cases starting and cases with a final disposal – up 21% and 38% respectively compared to quarter 4 2019…

“It may be some time until improvements as a result of recovery measures taken begin to show, particularly relating to timeliness measures as outstanding cases are dealt with. Nightingale courts continue to be used to help cope with demand and help the court system to run as effectively and safely as possible during the coronavirus outbreak.”

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