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Sir Andrew McFarlane: View from The President’s Chambers, December 2019

|Family Court|News

The unremitting pressure of work in the Family Court

This autumn I have continued to visit Family Courts in all parts of England and Wales, from Caernarfon to Canary Wharf. On each visit I have experienced palpable proof of a system which is still being forced to work at well over its capacity. That this is so is borne out by HMCTS data which shows that nationally the average length of public law cases rose from 30.1 weeks to 32.5 weeks over the past 12 months, with the percentage achieving completion within 26 weeks falling from 50.1% this time last year to a current figure of 43%. There has been a welcome fall of around 7% nationally in the number of public law applications that have been issued, but this average figure masks quite stark regional variations with the North East region, in particular, seeing a significant rise in numbers. The number of outstanding public cases as at November 2018 was 14,845; it is now 15,804.

In relation to private law proceedings, the volume of work continues its apparently inexorable rise. Prior to July 2019 the system had never received 11,000 applications under CA 1989, s 8 in one month; since then that barrier has been breached twice. The numbers of cases received nationally in the last four months were:

July:                 11,947

August:           10,447

September:     10,535

October:          11,000

Whilst, as a result of the dedicated and remorseless work of all involved, there has been a corresponding rise in the number of cases that have concluded, our ability to resolve cases has been outstripped by the volume of new applications coming in so that the number of outstanding private law cases in the system rose from 42,622 in November 2018 to 49,249 in September 2019.

From a number of perspectives, these figures are a cause for significant concern. They indicate that, despite the best efforts of everyone in the system, often working at well beyond capacity, we are not keeping pace with the volume of cases that are coming in and the backlog continues to increase. We are, in effect, running flat out up a down escalator which, despite our efforts, is outpacing us.

  • Today (Thursday 19 December 2019), the President of the Family Courts, Sir Andrew McFarlane appeared on Radio 4’s Today Programme discussing the points expressed in his latest View from the Chambers, including the current pressures being faced by the family courts.The interview (around 44 minutes in) is available on BBC Sounds for the next 29 days and the President’s full View from the Chambers can be read below.

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