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Lord Chief Justice concerned by volume of public and private law cases before the Family Court

Annual report highlights workload problems in the Family Court

The Lord Chief Justice has laid his 2016 annual report before Parliament.

Within it Lord Thomas draws particular attention to the volume of public and private law cases before the Family Court.

He notes that the average case duration for public law cases now stands at 27 weeks and 60% of cases are now dealt with in less than 26 weeks, compared with 55.7% in the same quarter in 2015. This performance has been delivered against a backdrop of an increasing workload and static judicial resources.

The number of cases commenced between January and March 2016 was 4,833, up 24% on the same quarter in 2015. He says that the increase in workload is a source of concern as the reasons for it are not well understood at present. Echoing the President of the Family Division, he forecasts that if the increases continue, they will, inevitably, soon start to have an adverse impact on case duration.

The Lord Chief Justice too considers that it is especially important to look to innovative "problem solving" models like the Family Drug and Alcohol Court, the PAUSE programme and the judiciary-led pilots of settlement conferences. He is also supportive of proposals to examine the tandem model of representation in children's cases to ensure that the most appropriate use is made of scarce Legal Aid resources in funding legal representation and the most effective use is made of Children's Guardians.

The Lord Chief Justice notes that for the second quarter of 2016 there was a 16% increase in new private law cases, compared with the same quarter in 2015, to 12,203. This, in combination with the increase in public law cases, is a major concern for the judiciary. He says that the reasons for the increase are not well understood and the majority of the private law cases that come before the Family Court now feature litigants-in-person, increasingly on both sides. As with public family law cases, measures to address the growing caseload need to be considered.

Lord Thomas commends the work progressing on the digitisation of applications in divorce and probate.

He says that the Family Procedure Rule Committee, building on the conclusions of the Child and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group, expect to have rules relating to vulnerable adults and children ready for implementation in 2017. There are also planned to be new rules re-route appeals from decisions of a Circuit judge or Recorder sitting in the Family Court to the High Court rather than the Court of Appeal.

The Lord Chief Justice notes too that the "transparency" pilot in the Court of Protection has been extended for a further year. This is in conjunction with the launch of a Case Management Pilot, on 1 September 2016, which aims to reduce further the number and length of hearings required in contested cases and to promote judicial continuity. It will also seek to encourage an early resolution of a property and affairs case at a Dispute Resolution Hearing.

The Lord Chief Justice's annual report is here.

7/11/16