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Family court backlog climbs to 110,000

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(11 November 2022)

The government has been urged to ensure sufficient judicial capacity to deal with the family court backlog – which has topped 110,000, latest HM Courts & Tribunals Service figures reveal.

According to the data, the number of open private law cases has increased for a second consecutive month, standing at 85,706 in August. The average time was 43 weeks.

The number of public law cases has grown during the course of this year and stood at 24,719 in August. The average time to complete a case was 45.1 weeks in August.

Law Society president Lubna Shuja said: ‘The ones who are impacted by this delay the most are families up and down the country. Some are dealing with deeply distressing issues – securing a child arrangement order, seeking protection from domestic abuse and controlling behaviour, or finalising a divorce.

‘The government must ensure, so far as possible, that there are sufficient fee-paid and full-time judges to deal with existing and new caseloads.’

Shuja added that reinstating legal aid for early legal advice in family cases would make a ‘cost-effective contribution’ to resolving the backlog.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons justice select committee on Tuesday, the lord chief justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, questioned whether removing private family law from the scope of legal aid under LASPO had saved money overall – highlighting the ‘wider economic cost’ of parents fighting about their children ‘rather than devoting themselves to their jobs’ as well as the wider cost of the damage being done to their children.

‘Contrary to what many people may think, getting lawyers involved at an early stage and giving their clients clear advice about what is likely to happen is very likely to see cases sort themselves out rather than fight,’ Burnett said.

Referrals to mediation nosedived following the legal aid cuts in 2013. Last year the Ministry of Justice introduced a voucher scheme to help separating couples resolve their disputes amicably and free up space in the family courts.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)