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Increase in family law cases causing court backlogs: Lord Chief Justice

‘Still too few judges to absorb all of the increases in case volumes’

The Lord Chief Justice's Report 2018 has highlighted the effect on court workload, and consequential backlogs, of the increased volume of both public and private law cases.

In his first annual report, Lord Burnett of Maldon notes:

"On average, care proceedings were disposed of in 28 weeks in 2017, over a week longer than the average in 2016. This worsening trend has continued, with disposal times exceeding 30 weeks in the second quarter of 2018, the longest they have been since the introduction of public law reforms and the single family court in April 2014."

To address the high demand in public law cases, a higher number of family sitting days have been allocated. However, despite judges taking on increased workloads, Lord Burnett says that there are still too few judges to absorb all of the increases in case volumes seen since 2015. This is leading to increased backlogs in work, and consequent increases in the time taken to dispose of cases. 

The Lord Chief Justice says that a similar picture is seen for private law cases, with increased numbers now stabilising at around 50,000 cases started per year (most recently 50,358 this year up to June 2018), case numbers were last at this level in the 2013/14 financial year. Again, lack of judicial resources meant that only 42,550 cases were disposed of, meaning that the outstanding caseload has continued to grow. This backlog is contributing to extended waiting times, with private law cases taking 26 weeks from being issued to final order, three weeks longer than the equivalent period in 2017. Lord Burnett adds that there is a perception that too many private law cases are coming to court, which would be better dealt with outside court.

For the Lord Chief Justice's report (family law is covered in Chapter 6), click here.