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MA national chair speaks out about family court delays

Delays having 'hugely detrimental impact'

30 April 2021
MA national chair speaks out about family court delays

MA national chair speaks out about family court delays

MA national chair Bev Higgs has had an opinion piece published in the Law Society Gazette that urges that delays in the family court should not be overshadowed by the crown court backlog. She highlights the latest quarterly family court statistics which show that in the last quarter of 2020, only 27% of care and supervision order cases were reaching first disposal within the 26-week limit.

The piece emphasises the ‘hugely detrimental’ impact such delays have on families, particularly on children waiting for certainty on where and with whom they will be living. The average time to reach first disposal has risen to 41 weeks, eight weeks longer than in 2019, and an extra three months of waiting adds to the distress of all involved. This is the longest average time families have had to wait for cases to reach first disposal since mid-2013 and the introduction of the 26-week limit in the 2014 Children and Families Act.

Bev also stresses the impact these delays have on magistrates, with many feeling obliged to undertake numerous additional sittings, and with the increased workload having the potential to affect the morale of even the most dedicated magistrates. ‘We must be realistic about the pressures that magistrates face’, Bev urges in the article. She adds that with sittings being so high in some areas, volunteering as a magistrate is just not feasible for many who are already balancing careers and family life, which poses challenges to recruiting a diverse magistracy while also placing a greater burden on current magistrates to sit more frequently. 

The article calls for properly resourced recruitment to both increase the number of magistrates and the diversity of the magistracy, but explains that this is only part of the answer and that the government must adopt a cross-agency approach to tackle the causes of delays throughout the family justice system.

Read the full piece here.


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