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Family courts see fewer cases but take longer to dispose of them

Average care case takes 30 weeks, average divorce petition 51 weeks to decree absolute

The Ministry of Justice's latest release of family court statistics indicates that there has been a decrease in the number of cases starting in the family courts, but an increase in the time taken to dispose of them.

The statistics appear to bear out the warnings given by the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, and the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, of a crisis in the family courts.

63,100 new cases started in family courts in January to March 2018, down 4 per cent on January to March 2017, due to falls in adoption, financial remedy, private law and matrimonial cases (down 10 per cent, 7 per cent, 5 per cent and 4 per cent respectively).

Whilst the number of public law cases starting in January to March 2018 was up only 2 per cent to 4,879 compared to the equivalent quarter in 2017 (and case disposals were also up 2 per cent to 4,503), the average time for a care or supervision case to reach first disposal was 30 weeks, up two weeks from the same quarter in 2017 and the highest average since early 2014. Only 49 per cent of cases were disposed of within 26 weeks – down 7 percentage points over the same period for 2017.

The number of private law applications and disposals were down 5 per cent and 7 per cent respectively in January to March 2018 compared with the same period of 2017. In January to March 2018, it took on average 26 weeks for private law cases to reach a final order, i.e. case closure, up 3 weeks on the same period in 2017. This recent upward trend seen over the last 18 months follows the drop from 31 weeks in the middle of 2014 to 21 weeks in quarter three of 2016.

Divorce petitions were also down in January to March 2018. There were 27,401 divorce petitions made during January to March 2018, down 4 per cent on the previous year. Average time to Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute was up 3 weeks (to 27 weeks) and 2 weeks (to 51 weeks) respectively over the same period.

The number of domestic violence remedy order applications increased by 2 per cent compared to the equivalent quarter in 2017, whilst the number of orders made increased by 7 per cent over the same period. These increases were driven by an increase in applications for non-molestation orders (up 3 per cent) whilst occupation order applications fell (down 2 per cent). The majority of applications were for non-molestation orders (81 per cent) compared to occupation orders (19 per cent).

The number of adoption applications and orders continues their downward trend. In January to March 2018, there were 1,301 adoption applications, down 11 per cent on the equivalent quarter in 2017. Similarly, over the same period the number of adoption orders issued decreased 10 per cent to 1,281.
There were 1,213 applications relating to deprivation of liberty in January to March 2018, up 25 per cent on the equivalent quarter in 2017. Deprivation of liberty orders were up 17 per cent over the same period.

For the full statistics, click here.

30/6/18