Decrease in most family justice activity but domestic abuse applications rise during lockdown

Decrease in most family justice activity but domestic abuse applications rise during lockdown

There has been a significant decrease in most types of family justice between April and June as a result of measures adopted by the courts regarding COVID-19.

The Family Court Quarterly Statistics also revealed that the time for a care or supervision case to reach first disposal was 36 weeks, despite the 26 weeks target.
There was also a decrease in the number of both adoption applications and orders.

However, there were record numbers of domestic violence remedy order applications and orders made.

The statistician said: “The impacts of Covid-19 can be seen in the relatively low volume of cases across most areas of family justice this quarter. During the initial Covid response, administrative and judicial resource was a significant challenge, resulting in a number of courts suspending operations for a period. This led to unprecedented falls in volumes, and substantial changes to timeliness measures.

“The exception to this general trend is for domestic violence remedy cases, which saw substantial increases in both new cases starting and cases that reached a final disposal – up 24% and 36% respectively and both are at record levels since the published time series began.”


Commenting on the quarterly statistics, Chair of the ADCS Families, Communities and Young People Policy Committee Sara Tough, said: “The significant increase in numbers of domestic violence remedy order applications between April to June is concerning, however, it is reassuring that there has also been an increase in the number of orders granted by the courts to protect victims. That said, domestic abuse is the most common reason children and families come to the attention of children’s social care, the Domestic Abuse Bill must go further to prevent it from occurring in the first place.”

The figures show that between April and June 2020:

  • 56,867 new cases started in family courts, down 13% on the equivalent quarter in 2019.
  • There was a 24% decrease in adoption cases
  • Private law cases reduced by 7%
  • The number of public law cases fell by 4% cases.
  • There were 46,740 case disposals in April to June 2020, down 16% on the equivalent quarter of 2019.
  • Adoption case disposals fell by 51%
  • Private law case disposals decreased by 48%
  • There was a 30% reduction in public law disposals

However, the statistics revealed that there was a 24% increase in domestic violence case starts and a 36% rise in domestic violence case disposals.


Average time to first disposal varies by case type with public law cases generally taking the longest. In 2011, on average, they took nearly a year to reach a first disposal (49 weeks) but from there the average fell steadily and by 2016, almost halved to reach 26 weeks. It increased in 2017 to 27 weeks. For April to June 2020 the average was 35 weeks, up from 32 weeks during the same period in 2019.

There were 4,452 public law cases starting in April to June 2020, down 4% compared to the equivalent quarter in 2019. Cases disposed were down 30% to 2,919. The average time for a care and supervision case to reach first disposal was 36 weeks in April to June 2020, up 3 weeks from the same quarter in 2019 and the highest average since mid-2013. The data showed 34% of these care proceedings were disposed of within the 26-week limit introduced in the Children and Families Act 2014, down 7 percentage points from the same period last year.

There were 7,502 individual children involved in new public law applications in April to June 2020, down 4% on the same quarter in the previous year, while the number of application events also decreased by 4%. The number of public law disposal events decreased by 33% over the same period.

There were 1,986 applications under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, including placement orders during April to June 2020, down 24% on the same quarter in the previous year. The total number of disposals for adoption decreased by 52% to 1,222 over the same period.

Domestic abuse

In April to June 2020, there were 8,844 applications made for a domestic violence remedy order, up 24% on the same quarter in 2019 and the highest quarterly number of applications since the time series began in 2009.

Most of the applications – 83% - were for non-molestation orders compared to 17% for occupation orders. These proportions have remained relatively consistent in recent years. Applications for non-molestation orders in April to June 2020 were up 26% compared to the same period in 2019, while occupation orders applications increased by 17%.

There were 9,463 domestic violence orders made in April to June 2020, up 17% from the same period last year. Of these, 94% were non-molestation orders and 6% were occupation orders, with non-molestation orders up 18% whilst occupation orders dropped 4% compared to the equivalent quarter in 2019.

Focusing on the recent increase, since 2017 police forces have been using a power to release alleged perpetrators without bail conditions, referred to as ‘released under investigation’. 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 Bill (draft published January 2019 and completed its Commons stages July 2020) may have also impacted levels. More recently 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,” said the report.

The number of applications and orders made for forced marriage protection orders (FMPOs) is very small. The numbers tend to fluctuate each quarter but overall there has been a general upward trend since their introduction in November 2008. In April to June 2020, there were 41 applications, of which 49% of applications were for people aged 17 and under.

Over the same period, there were 39 orders made, down 77% since the same period from the previous year.

Similarly, the number of applications and orders made for female genital mutilation protection orders (FGMPOs) is very small, with only 9 applications and 30 orders made respectively in April to June 2020 (Table 19). In total, there have been 458 applications and 614 orders made up to end of June 2020, since their introduction in July 2015.

Not representative

The statistician added: “As society and the economy begins to recover from the impact of Covid-19, it is expected that case volumes will return to historic trend levels and may even temporarily exceed the pre-covid-19 volumes as the backlog of cases is processed. We are working with representative bodies to understand the expected demand and will continue to monitor future trends in both volumes and timeliness.

“While these statistics are still believed to be of interest to the public, it is worth noting that the significantly reduced volumes of cases starting mean that the data is unlikely to be representative of general trends for the family court system.”

Sara Tough, Chair of the ADCS Families, Communities and Young People Policy Committee, added: “Local authorities and the courts have made good progress in improving the timeliness of care proceedings, down from an average of 50 weeks in 2011 to 26 weeks in 2016. Although average times have since lengthened it is important to recognise the distance traveled; we are performing better for children now than we were nine years ago. Several things have impacted on timescales, for example, the number of cases has increased as has the complexity, and delays can also be caused by assessments that must be completed for family members who emerge once proceedings are already underway. When considering these statistics we must take into account the significant disruption to the work of the courts as a result of the pandemic; in person hearings were largely unavailable for the period covered and remote hearings often take longer and are not well suited to complex, contested hearings, therefore, the data may not represent general trends in the family court system.

“The Public Law Outline has benefited children and families in terms of reducing unnecessary drift and delay in the system, but our main aim should always be meeting the individual needs of a child or young person, even if this falls outside of the 26 week limit,” she added.

Family Court Statistics Quarterly: April to June 2020

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