The average length of time taken for family court cases has fallen to a record low according to the latest family court statistics.
A 26-week time limit for family court cases was introduced in the Children and Families Act 2014. Figures show that the length of cases has been reduced from 50 weeks in 2011 to 27 weeks, meaning that while case duration has plummeted dramatically, the 26 week target is not yet being met.
The average time for the disposal of a care or supervision application made in April to June 2016 was 27 weeks, remaining steady over the past year, said the report. However, 60% of care or supervision proceedings were disposed of within 26 weeks, following the introduction of the time limit.
The fall in the length of cases comes against a backdrop of a surge in the number of care applications. Following the publicity surrounding the Baby P case, the number of children involved in public law applications made by local authorities jumped from around 20,000 to almost 26,000 in 2009 and subsequently to 29,500 in 2011, according to the latest Ministry of Justice statistics. Figures remained fairly steady at around 7,000 per quarter, but there has been an increase over the last 12 months, with 8,972 children involved in public law applications in April to June 2016, an increase of 21% from the equivalent quarter in 2015.
Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas has warned of pressures on the organisation after care applications have risen by 14% during a year. The surge in the number of care applications during 2015-2016 has become a “major issue” for Cafcass, Douglas warned.
The MoJ figures states that there was a 10% rise in the number of cases that began in family courts in England and Wales between April to June 2016 compared with the same quarter a year ago.
There were 66,328 cases started in the family courts in England and Wales. There has been a particularly large rise in the number of public and private law cases, 24% and 16% respectively. There were 60,373 cases disposed in April to June 2016.
The figures show that 1,429 applications were made for an adoption order, down 4% from the same quarter in 2015.
The number of applications for domestic violence remedy orders has remained stable over the last year at around 4,700 non-molestation and 1,200 occupation applications. Following their introduction in July 2015, there have been 77 applications and 68 orders made for Female Genital Mutilation Protection Orders (FGMPOs) up to the end of June 2016.
Applications relating to deprivation of liberty doubled over the last 12 months from 386 made in April to June 2015 to 743 in the latest quarter, the statistics show.
There has been a steady upward trend in the number of applications and orders made under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and a 13% increase in applications in the latest quarter from April to June 2015.