The family court system continues to be crippled with unacceptable delays, according to the latest family court data. This issue must be addressed before the family court system collapses, says the Law Society of England and Wales President Lubna Shuja:
We are concerned these continuing delays will have a detrimental impact on families seeking justice.
By delaying cases, the courts are exacerbating the uncertainty facing families. This must be addressed before the family court system collapses.
Private children’s law cases – where families apply for custody or decide a child’s residence – were taking on average 47 weeks during October to December 2022, up five weeks on the same period last year.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has previously estimated that it may take three years to return to pre-pandemic levels, which is very worrying, particularly for cases that concern children and family matters.
These delays are preventing parents from being able to see their children and could mean children are left without the stability they need to thrive.
The UK government must ensure, so far as possible, that there are sufficient fee-paid and full-time judges to deal with existing and new caseloads.
Our members working in family law continue to report the high number of litigants in person (LiPs) – parties appearing alone in court without legal representation.
This is no surprise since the cuts to legal aid have driven up the number of people who have no choice but to represent themselves, through often highly stressful legal proceedings.
The latest statistics show that the number of cases where neither party had legal representation was 40 per cent, increasing by three percentage points from the same quarter last year.
LiPs require more time and support from the court, which is likely to slow down the system and increase overall costs.
Early legal advice must be reinstated so families can be supported in the court system.
This would also make a cost-effective contribution to resolving the backlogs in the family courts.