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Increase in care cases has created a crisis, agrees Lord Chief Justice

Lord Thomas’s final report reviews family court developments over last year

In his final annual report as Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas has agreed with the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, that the increase in care cases at a time of static judicial resources has created a crisis.

In Section 6 of his report, devoted to family justice, he notes that between January and November 2016, the year-on-year increase in care cases averaged 20% on top of a similar scale of increase in 2015. Whilst the beginning of 2017 saw the rate of increase slowing, the trend is still upwards. There were 5,051 new public law applications in January to March 2017, up 5% on the equivalent quarter in 2016. Average case duration is beginning to move up again after a long and sustained fall, it now stands at 28 weeks after several quarters hovering around 27 weeks.

The Lord Chief Justice notes the leading role taken by the judiciary in seeking means of controlling the rise in public law cases through the pilot of settlement conferences and its support of other initiatives such as PAUSE, the Family Drugs and Alcohol Court and the New Orleans Intervention Model currently being piloted by LIFT which seek to tackle the problems which drive families into public law proceedings.

Lord Thomas states that an amended Practice Direction 12J is expected to come into force during this month.

He also notes that a protocol is currently being developed to promote closer co-operation between the judges of the Family Courts of England and Wales and their colleagues in Scotland. The protocol will cover a number of issues of mutual interest including how to approach care cases with a cross-jurisdictional element. It is hoped that, in time, the provisions of the protocol will be further developed and extended to support co-operation on care cases across the whole of the UK.

For the report, click here.

8/9/17