The Ministry of Justice’s latest family court statistics have illustrated that in 36% of cases, divorcing couples go to court without legal representation in matters concerning their children or matrimonial finances. The family court statistics from the Ministry of Justice, covering April to June 2017, were published yesterday and show a continuing rise in the number of private law applications before the courts, as the family justice system continues to demonstrate evidence of being overrun.
The number of private law applications increased by 3% (13,029 new private law applications in April to June 2017), compared to the equivalent quarter in 2016, whilst the number of disposals decreased 4% over the same period.
In April to June 2017, it took an average of 24 weeks for private law cases to reach a final order, i.e. case closure, which is up slightly on the same period in 2016. Perhaps more concerning is the Ministry of Justice’s acknowledgement that this upward trend of delay is expected to continue in the near future.
The scrapping of legal aid in the majority of divorce-related disputes has led to a 19% rise in litigants in person. Worryingly, across all family case types, cases where either both parties or the respondent only had legal representation took longer to be disposed than those cases where only the applicant was represented or where both parties were without legal representation, indicating the possibility of points of law or an incomplete factual matrix being missed, potentially resulting in unfair and unjust outcomes, or orders not in the best interests of children.
The increase in litigants in person is increasing the pressure on the courts as resources continue to be restricted. Senior judges, including the outgoing lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, have also commented on the problems caused by the lack of legal aid available to litigants. The rise in cases carried out without legal representation is “deeply worrying”, Lord Thomas told the justice committee of MPs this month.
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