The average time for a care and supervision case to reach first disposal is at the highest point in nine years, Ministry of Justice figures have shown.
Between January and March 2021, the average time for a care and supervision case to reach first disposal was 43 weeks, up 8 weeks from the same quarter in 2020 and the highest average since mid-2012.
Just 22% of these care proceedings were disposed of within the 26-week limit introduced in the Children and Families Act 2014, down 14 percentage points from the same period last year.
“Public law cases generally take the longest and in 2011, on average, they took nearly a year to reach a first disposal (49 weeks). From 2011, the average fell steadily and by 2016, almost halved to reach 26 weeks,” said the report.
“However, it increased in 2017 to 27 weeks. For January to March 2021 the average was 41 weeks, up from 34 weeks during the same period in 2020,” the report added.
There were 71,707 new cases started in the family courts in January to March 2021, up 7% on the same quarter in 2020 as a result of increases in most case types:
However, there was a decrease of 7% in public law cases starting.
“The recovery from the impact of Covid-19 continues to be seen across family court activity data this quarter, with increases in the number of new cases started across most case types as well as increases in the number of disposed cases across most areas compared to the same time last year, at the start of the pandemic in the UK. The impacts on timeliness measures continue to be felt, particularly for delays to care proceedings, with work continuing to address the impact to the family justice system,” said the report.
There were 14,976 new private law application events in January to March 2021, up 5% on the equivalent quarter in 2020, with 22,269 individual children involved in these application events. The number of private law court disposal events in January to March 2021 was 19,216, down 4% on the equivalent quarter in 2020.
In January to March 2021, it took on average 40 weeks for private law cases to reach a final order, for example case closure, an increase of 10 weeks from the same period in 2020. This continues the upward trend seen since the middle of 2016, following from the end of 2015 where the number of new cases overtook the number of disposals.
The removal of legal aid for many private law cases in April 2013 resulted in a change in the pattern of legal representation over time. The proportion of disposals where neither parties had legal representation in January to March 2021 was 36%, increasing by 23 percentage points since January to March 2013, and down 2 percentage points from January to March 2020.
The proportion of cases where both parties had legal representation went from 41% in January to March 2013 to 21% in January to March 2021.
The report also showed that during January to March 2021, there were 1,178 adoption applications made for adoption, up 6% from the equivalent quarter in 2020. Over the same period, the number of adoption orders issued also increased by 6% to 1,166.
There were 8,974 applications made for a domestic violence remedy order in January to March 2021, up by 12% on the same quarter in 2020. Most of the applications were for non-molestation orders (86%) compared to occupation orders (14%). Applications for non-molestation orders in January to March 2021 were up by 16%, whereas applications for occupation orders were down by 10% compared to the same period in 2020.
There were 10,057 domestic violence orders made in January to March 2021, up 13% from the same period last year. While 95% were non-molestation orders – a rise of 16% on the equivalent quarter in 2020, just 5% were occupation orders, down by 15%.
“The lockdown situation as a result of the covid-19 pandemic brought warnings about an increase in domestic violence, with victims having less opportunity to leave abusive partners. Longer term, police forces have been using a power to release alleged perpetrators without bail conditions, referred to as ‘released under investigation’, since 2017. This is a possible driving factor behind the rise in domestic violence remedy cases, as victims seek protective orders through the courts. The publicity regarding the Domestic Abuse Act (which was signed into law shortly after the time period covered by this data) may have also impacted levels,” said the report.
“It may be some time until improvements as a result of recovery measures taken begin to show, particularly relating to timeliness measures as outstanding cases are dealt with. Nightingale courts continue to be used to provide additional venues to help cope with demand and help the court system to run as effectively and safely as possible during the coronavirus outbreak,” it added.