President offers his thanks to overloaded Family Court

Last week the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, in an open letter dated 25th July, wrote:

“I hope that this short message will be read by every judge, magistrate, HMCTS staff member, civil servant, CAFCASS officer, social work[er] and lawyer involved in the Family Justice System and Court of Protection in England and Wales.

I am writing simply to offer you my profound thanks and appreciation for all that each one of you has done to keep our heavily burdened system up, running and delivering results for the benefit of children and their families during the past 12 months. I know that for many this has not been at all easy at times, and that stress from the unremitting volume of work is not to be under-estimated. Knowing that this is so, redoubles my appreciation for all that you do.

This is not the place to say more, but as many now look forward to a summer break, I thought that it was timely to say ‘Thank You’.”

This came in the midst of increased criticism of the current system in the past few months which has been felt by those within the judiciary, HMCTS, practitioners and, ultimately and most importantly, clients alike.

Last month statistics released by the Ministry of Justice revealed a 5% increase in the number of cases started in the family courts in the quarter of January to March 2019 in comparison to the same quarter last year.  The statistics also revealed that the average time from issuing a divorce petition and Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute has increased to 33 weeks and 59 weeks respectively.  Waiting times have increased nationwide since the 2015 introduction of regional divorce centres but it is the south-east where delays have been worst with a 4 month increase in waiting time since 2015.

McFarlane has already said previously that the regional centres “have not worked well” and that they “are being phased out”.  They are expected to be replaced with a system with a greater online element as part of a wider project of court reform but this itself has been criticised as thousands of court staff are expected to lose their jobs.

McFarlane’s predecessor, Sir James Munby, made scathing comments with regard to the regional divorce centres before he retired from the role of President.  In a judgment he wrote that the centres had become “bywords for delay and inefficiency, essentially because HMCTS has been unable or unwilling to furnish them with adequate numbers of staff and judges”.  He did not blame individuals, instead sympathising “that people under pressure, if there are not enough people engaged to do the work, are more prone to make error”.

Whilst it is not yet clear exactly how the planned reforms are going to work in practice and with ‘no-fault divorce’ also finally on the horizon adding further uncertainty, what we can still recommend without doubt is that having professional advice will help you be prepared for what you can expect, help reduce the stress experienced whilst divorcing and help achieve your best outcome.

If you require any further advice on matters relating to Family Law please contact our  specialist Family Law Solicitors on 01483 451 900 or make an online enquiry here .