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President says family courts face ‘clear and imminent crisis’

Courts must improve handling of care cases

The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has said that the family courts face a clear and imminent crisis caused by the relentless increase in the number of care cases they must handle.

In his latest View from the President's Chambers he notes that, according to Cafcass's official figures, in the last ten years care cases have risen from 6,786 to an estimated 14,713 for the current year (presuming a continued increase this year of only 10%; the actual annual increase so far the year is 23%).

Sir James says that following implementation of the recommendations of the Family Justice Review, the average duration of care cases fell rapidly month by month. Currently the duration of such cases averages 28 weeks. Over the last year, progress in reducing duration has 'flat-lined'.

He states:

"That [the duration of care proceedings] has not, as yet, begun to climb must be a matter for congratulation to everyone involved in making the system work. To keep the line level as the caseload increased by 14% is an astonishing achievement. I hope I turn out to be wrong, but I do not believe that this level of achievement can be maintained as caseloads continue to rise. The fact is that, on the ground, the system is – the people who make the system work are – at full stretch."

Sir James calls for research into the causes of the increase in the caseload (whilst indicating likely drivers). He also says that detailed analysis is urgently required in relation to judicial deployment in and the court process of care cases.

Asking what steps can be taken now in the face of this crisis he says:

"The first thing is to do everything we properly can without sacrificing what is fundamental or prejudicing standards to improve the way in which we handle care cases: 

He continues:

"I have left until last the single most important thing that can and must be done, urgently and with unremitting vigour, to manage the crisis…

"The family court must become, in much of what it does, a problem?solving court. We are all familiar with the excellent and immensely fruitful work being done in ever increasing numbers of cases in the ever expanding network of FDACs. Another similar project – Pause – is now in rapid development, focusing on addressing the underlying problems of the all too many women who find themselves losing successive children in repeat care proceedings."

He concludes:

"FDAC, Pause and similar projects are, at present, the best hope, indeed, in truth, the only hope, we have of bringing the system, the ever increasing numbers of care cases, under control. If anyone knows any better I shall be delighted to hear what it is. But until they do I shall remain, as hitherto, an ardent, committed and enthusiastic supporter of FDAC and Pause."

To read the President's View, please click here.