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Soaring cases in family courts following lockdowns

There has been 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, according to Ministry of Justice figures.

Care figures

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, the Ministry of Justice report revealed.

“The recovery from the impact of Covid-19 continues to be seen across family court activity data this quarter, with increases seen in the number of new cases started across most case types as well as increases in the number of disposed cases across all areas compared to the same time last year, at the start of the pandemic in the UK. When comparing to the same quarter in 2019 (as a pre-Covid 19 baseline), most of these changes appear to be reverting to the longer-term trends (i.e. increases seen when comparing to both April-June 2019 and 2020, albeit to a lesser degree). The impacts to timeliness measures continue to be felt, with work continuing to address the impact to the family justice system,” said the report.

Between April and June this year, the average time for a care or supervision case to reach first disposal was 44 weeks, up eight weeks from the same quarter in 2020. One fifth of cases were disposed of within 26 weeks - down 11 percentage points compared to the same period in 2020 and the lowest since 2012.

The average length of time to first disposal varies by case type although public law cases generally take the longest. In 2011 public law cases took on average nearly a year to reach a first disposal (49 weeks). However, following the introduction of the 26-week limit in The Children Act, the average fell steadily and by 2016, almost halved to reach 26 weeks.

By 2017, the average time started creeping up again to 27 weeks and the latest available statistics show that between April to June 2021 the average was 43 weeks, up from 35 weeks during the same period in 2020.

There were 4,122 public law cases starting in April to June 2021, down 7% compared to the equivalent quarter in 2020. Cases disposed were up 45% to 4,212.

There were 14,498 new private law applications made in April to June 2021, up 11% on the equivalent quarter in 2020, with 21,619 individual children involved in these application events.

The number of private law court disposal events in April to June 2021 was 19,175, up 40% on the equivalent quarter in 2020.

It took on average 41 weeks for private law cases to reach a final order, i.e. case closure, between April and June, up 13 weeks from the same period in 2020. This continues the upward trend seen since the middle of 2016, where the number of new cases overtook the number of disposals.

Yet the statistics show that there was a decrease in the number of applications for domestic violence remedy order by 6% compared to the equivalent quarter in 2020. The number of orders made decreased by 2% over the same period.

Most of the applications were for non-molestation orders (85%) compared to occupation orders (15%). There were 9,388 domestic violence orders made in April to June 2021, down 2% from the same period last year.

“Domestic violence remedy cases remain at high levels, but new case starts have seen a slight decrease from the start of the first UK lockdown period (down 4% from quarter 1 2020 but up 18% from quarter 1 2019). The main decrease in new cases started was seen for public law cases (down 7% on the same quarter in 2020), whilst care proceedings have again slowed further to the longest average time since the end of 2012,” said the report.

During April to June 2021, there were 1,060 adoption applications made, up 27% from the equivalent quarter in 2020. Over the same period, the number of adoption orders issued also increased by 96% to 1,156 (from a record low base at the start of the Covid-19 UK lockdown period). There were 2,252 applications under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, including placement orders during April to June 2021, up 11% on the same quarter in the previous year. Total disposals increased by 63% to 2,151 over the same period.

“It may be some time until improvements are seen in various 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,” the report concluded.

Family Court Statistics Quarterly: April to June 2021

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