New statistics released by the Ministry of Justice show that in more than a third of cases appearing before the family court neither party is legally represented. The MoJ’s quarterly statistics for the period April to June, 2016, show that neither the applicant nor respondent were represented in 34 per cent of cases.
The MoJ says the legal representation status referenced in the statistics reflects whether the applicant or respondent’s representative has been recorded or left blank in the family court case management system. It is possible, therefore, that those listed as without representation are not necessarily self-representing litigants in person.
Although the figure for unrepresented parties has been rising steadily since the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act in 2013 which restricted legal aid for family cases, the latest statistics show that that figure has now reached record levels. From April 2013, legal aid is now only available for private family law cases, such as contact or divorce, except if there is evidence of domestic violence or in child abuse and child abduction cases.
When the legislation was initially implemented approximately 17 per cent of family court cases had no legal representation for either party. The statistics also show that the figure for cases where both parties are represented has fallen from nearly 40 per cent in 2013 to approximately 27 per cent in the second quarter of 2016
The MoJ’s latest quarterly statistics also show that in 40 per cent of cases the courts failed to meet the 26-week time limit, introduced in the Children and Families Act 2014, for disposing of care or supervision proceedings. The average time for a disposal in care proceedings is now roughly 27 weeks, though that figure has been falling in recent years.
The MoJ said this figure was ‘skewed’ by specific complex cases that take a long time to resolve: the median time to make a disposal was 25 weeks for all children involved in case and supervision proceedings it claimed.
The statistics also show that the average time for the disposal of divorce cases with financial remedy has been steadily increasing; from 20.5 weeks at the start of 2015 to 24.9 weeks in the second quarter of 2016.
In terms of the number of cases dealt with, the statistics show that the workload of the family courts appears to have increased significantly. In the period from April to June, 2016 there were 66,326 cases in family courts in England and Wales: a 10 per cent increase on the same period in 2015.
The number of public law cases started has increased by 24 per cent over the last 12 months, from 3,896 to 4,833. The number of children involved in public law applications increased by 21 per cent over the same period to 8,972.
The statistics also show that there has been a reduction in the number of applications for adoption orders: he courts received 1,429 applications in the second quarter of 2016, down 4 per cent from the same quarter in 2015.