Latest statistics show large decrease in Family Court cases

Last week the Ministry of Justice published its latest statistics on the work of the Family Court, for the quarter July to September 2021.

The statistics throw up a number of matters that should be of interest to anyone using the Family Court, including the following:

1. A decrease in the number of cases started in the Family Courts. We are told that in the quarter 63,084 new cases were started, down 11% on the equivalent quarter in 2020. This was due to decreases in all case types: matrimonial/divorce (15%), public law children (14%), adoption (12%), private law children (10%), domestic abuse (8%) and financial remedy (5%) cases.

2. Conflicting figures on the average time taken for divorce proceedings during the quarter. The statistics tell us that the mean average time from petition to decree nisi was 26 weeks, and to decree absolute was 55 weeks – down 3 weeks and up 4 weeks respectively when compared to the equivalent quarter in 2020.

3. Private law children cases (i.e. cases not involving social services) taking longer. In an alarming development we are told that in the quarter it took 42 weeks on average for private law cases to reach a final order, i.e. case closure, which is up 9 weeks from the same period in 2020, reaching record levels in since the Ministry began publishing these quarterly statistics in 2014.

4. Fewer people having legal representation. As the Ministry explained, legal aid was removed for many private law cases in April 2013, and this resulted in a change in the pattern of legal representation over time. In July to September 2021, the proportion of case disposals where neither the applicant nor respondent had legal representation was 37%, increasing by 23 percentage points since January to March 2013, and up 1 percentage point from July to September 2020. Correspondingly, the proportion of cases where both parties had legal representation went from 41% in January to March 2013 to 19% in July to September 2021, down 4 percentage points compared to the same period in 2020

Commenting upon the figures a statistician said: “Volumes of new cases starting across all Family Justice areas have decreased this quarter, possibly stabilising following the recovery from the impact of Covid-19 in the end of 2020 and early 2021. As seen last quarter, the latest figures are more in line with longer term trends seen pre-Covid 19.”

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