The justice secretary has urged “drastic” action to tackle the number of private law cases coming before the courts.
Giving evidence to the justice committee, Dominic Raab said that he was concerned about the backlog of cases in private law, given many should be dealt with out of court.
“In the private law courts, broadly the range of safeguarding and domestic abuse cases are somewhere between 50 and 60% of the cases. I think inevitably they need to be heard before a judge because of the level of issues at stake,” said Mr Raab.
“For me, the vast majority of the remainder shouldn’t really go to court and it should not be so easy to say ‘we’ll go to court’,” he added.
While a lot of these cases involve sad, sometimes tragic, family break up matters, and often involve children, there should be much greater use of family alternative dispute resolution, and mediation in particular.
“I think we need to reconcile the incentives for both going to ADR and going to court,” said Mr Raab. “I mean, frankly most of these cases should not be going to the family courts.”
“I’ve only been in this job for a few months, but I would be in the market for something really quite drastic and bold in that area. Most of these cases should go to mediation and that doesn’t require you to wait in a queue for a court,” he added.
He said he was “concerned” about the issue because he was able to compare a snapshot of the issues now against the situation in family courts in 2018 when he was courts minister.
In the last financial year, cases sat at near record levels in the family courts but had now largely restored the disposal levels to those seen before the pandemic which has enabled courts to stabilise the growth in the public law caseload level to around 10% higher than pre-COVID levels.
Cafcass figures published in may showed that private law cases involving contact disputes for children had risen dramatically by 42% in a year. While the number of public law care proceedings fell by 2.3% between April 2020 and April 2021, the number of private law cases soared.
As a result, Cafcass introduced some revised arrangements for managing unsustainable caseloads in July.
Ministry of Justice figures published in October confirmed a rise in the number of cases starting in the family courts as there were 66,357 new cases in April to June 2021, up 14% on the same quarter in 2020. The increase was due to rises in most case types: financial remedy (76%), private law (11%), adoption (11%) and matrimonial (7%) cases. However, there was a decrease in public law (7%) and domestic violence (4%) case starts.