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Addressing the ‘unsustainable’ workload in the family courts is Number One priority, says President

Meanwhile, some corners may need to be cut and time-limits exceeded

In Sir Andrew McFarlane's first 'View from The President's Chambers', he has highlighted, as he did in his address to the ALC, the unprecedented and unsustainable volume of cases in the family justice system. This, he says, is his Number One priority.

Sir Andrew notes that the workload pressure has increased in private law cases relating to children, where there are a high number of applications and a substantial rise in the proportion of litigants in person. There is too a separate problem concerning the availability of medical expert witnesses.

In order to improve understanding of the various difficulties, and to develop solutions to meet them, Keehan J will chair a Public Law Working Group, Cobb J will re?convene a Private Law Working Group and David Williams J will establish an Experts Working Group. The timetable for a final report and proposals for change from all three of these Working Groups is Easter 2019.

The President acknowledges that in the meantime every professional working in the Family Courts must continue to experience the adverse impact of the high volume of cases. In this regard, he says:

"For the time being, some corners may have to be cut and some time?limits exceeded; to  attempt to  do otherwise in  a  situation  where  the  pressure  is  sustained, remorseless and relentless, is to risk the burn?out of key and valued individuals in a system which is already sparely manned in terms of lawyers, court staff and judges.

I would encourage local dialogue between the legal profession and each DFJ on this topic so that some parameters may be agreed as to what is and is not sensible or acceptable in terms of working practices during the next six months or more.  The following are no more than suggestions for what might be discussed and agreed:

• The earliest time of day when the court can reasonably be expected to sit;
• The latest time of day when the court can reasonably be expected to sit;
• The latest time in the evening, and the earliest time in the morning, when it is acceptable to send an email to another lawyer in a case or to the court;
• Reducing the components to be expected in a 'Position Statement' to the minimum required (for example simply one side of A4 using bullet points) on the basis that a fuller oral position can be outlined at court if required."

For the text of the View from the President's Chambers, click here.