Ministry of Justice publish
Family court statistics quarterly: January to March 2022 today (30th June 2022)
Private law family case delays at a new all-time high of 46 weeks
Case duration has more than doubled in five years
Proceedings are not on a child-appropriate timescale, harm children and fuel family conflict
Family courts were not fit-for purpose before Covid-19
and efforts to address the pandemic backlogs have failed
The whole system needs to be re-designed
Our service users told us this month:
"I had to wait 2.5 years for final hearing and 7 months for a 1 hour directions hearing!"
"I waited nearly 12 months before my first hearing"
"I’m still waiting for a final hearing and it’s been 2 years so far"
"There has been 7 adjournments and two vacations amounting to more than 12 months in delays all because mother claims to be unwell just before each hearing”
"I waited 4 months for first hearing"
"11 months for directions hearing - still hasn’t happened"
"Waited 9 month for my first hearing, mother didn’t turn up also, have to wait a further 4 months for the next hearing."
Each of these accounts is a personal tragedy. It is a tragedy for the applicant parents, but above all it is a tragedy for the children in whose name the Family Courts sit. Such delays do not serve the best interests of children - they contribute to harm and result in children losing completely their relationships with much loved parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, half-siblings and other family members and close friends who had close attachments with them. We can put media representatives with these parents to hear their accounts first-hand (they may require anonymity of reporting due to being in court proceedings).
This morning the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published their most recent report Family Court Statistics Quarterly: January to March 2022 today .
The latest data shows that Private Law cases, on average, have increased in length since the last quarter from 44.3 to 46.2 weeks, double what it took five years ago and getting worse every quarter. The Covid-19 has clearly been a major factor, increasing times by 20 weeks, but in reality, the figures were getting worse since 2017 and cases now take 25 weeks longer than five years ago. Changes in legal aid in 2012 have also resulted in the proportion of litigants with representation having from 59% to 29% - no-doubt adding to delays, numbers of hearings and stress on all parties involved.
Furthermore, at the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) open board meeting of 28th April 2022 it was reported that the average time taken for Private Law cases that go beyond a first has increased to 54 weeks and the ones involving the appointment of a Children’s Guardian, have increased from 92 to 94 weeks* in the last quarter!  Cafcass also report that there are approximately 7-8,000 more children in the system than pre-covid, with anticipated 'suppressed demand' forecast to by MoJ to result in an increase of caseload potentially over 10% in 2022/23.
Oral evidence this week (27th June 2022) to the House of Lords Children and Families Act 2014 Committee from the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane and CEO of Cafcass, Jacky Tiotto, did not inspire confidence that acceptable solutions are being developed.
Sir Andrew said "Since Covid started, the amount of resource that has been put into family justice has gone up by about 25% in terms of sitting days; we measure what judges do by how often they sit. Yet the output of the system, the ability of the system to complete cases, has gone down in that it now takes more hearings per case to get to the end of it."
Jacky Tiotto said: "We have a backlog now of about 7,000 children that we did not have before March 2020. We do not have a solution for that."
Ms Tiotto agreed with Lord Mawson when he said:
"I keep hearing that it is going to cost money and we need more and more money. What thought is going into the fact that as a country there may not be more money? The world where there was going to be more money may no longer exist. It is a bit like the crisis of Covid. We keep weeping about it. I would like some thought about what we are going to do to engage with a world that is now going to be quite challenging about that. In my world, it is about innovation and new thinking because there may be some realities there."
For the system to be fit-for-purpose, it needs to be re-designed to promote out-of-court resolution and investigations of contested facts and serious allegations need to take place within a few weeks rather than months or years. It seems unlikely that the Government will pump tens of millions of pounds to address the current situation. Even if they did, it would take a long time to recruit more judges and Cafcass Family Court Advisers.
The status quo is unacceptable and so there is an urgent need to review procedures and legislation:
- to simplify the system
- create the conditions to promote out-of-court agreements
- to reduce incentives to game the system
See further details of our vision of the elements of such a review in our paper ‘A Strategy for Separated Families’.
Chair of FNF, Paul O’Callaghan says: “Waiting and hoping for things to get better is not an acceptable option as the family justice system lurches from dreadful to frightful. The scale of the crisis must not be under-estimated with 83,000 children caught-up in wholly scandalous delays that harm children and fuel damaging family conflict, cost to the parties and taxpayers. The latest oral evidence by the President of the Family Division and CEO of Cafcass demonstrates that tinkering at the edges will not make a material difference. The process of family justice must be urgently reviewed and in the meanwhile action taken to remove incentives for vengeful, angry parents to game the system to the detriment of their children. These delays, fracture, often irreparably, a once loving relationship between a child and half of their family, leading to all too frequent lifetime trauma for the child. We call on the MoJ to meet with us to discuss what has become a national crisis.'
For further information, quotations from our service users or infographics please contact us by email at email@example.com or leave a message on 0300 0300 110.
Notes for editors:
Families Need Fathers - because both parents matter
FNF is the leading registered UK charity providing information and support on shared parenting issues arising from family breakdown, and support to divorced and separated parents, irrespective of gender or marital status. FNF is NOT a fathers' rights group - we support the best interests of children - namely mature and collaborative parenting by both parents - an objective which is inadequately promoted in the family court system and associated services.
FNF receive approximately 20,000 - 25-000 calls a year for help a year and thousands more rely on our local branch network and online support.
Our primary concern is the maintenance of the child’s meaningful relationship with both parents. Founded in 1974, FNF helps thousands of parents every year.
Family Court Tables: October to December 2021 - Table 2, 9 and 11 and MoJ commentary
 Children and Families Act 2014 Committee oral evidence transcript: Children and Families Act 2014 - Monday 27th June 2022 - evidence from Rt Hon Sir Andrew McFarlane, Jacky Tiotto and Steve Crocker OBE (please note that neither Members nor witnesses have had the opportunity to correct the record at this time, but the proceedings can be viewed on Parliament TV here).
30th June 2022
* Since this press release, Cafcass have stated, at their open board meeting of 17th July 2022, that these private law case are now averaging 99 weeks!
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