Rising case-loads in the family court

Speech by President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane

Young boy holding up his arms like scales balancing his parents

The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has delivered a speech discussing rising case-loads in the family courts, with a particular focus on public law. With reference to data collected from a recent Association of Directors of Children's Services survey, the President noted that the total number of children within the child care system has risen markedly over the last 10 years, and that it should therefore be 'no surprise' that the number of cases that justify court proceedings has also gone up.

When looking at reasons for the rise, Sir Andrew proposed that cases were reaching court which previously 'would simply have been held by social services with families being supported in the community without a court order' and suggested that a range of factors seemed to have led local authorities to bring a higher number of 'grey area' neglect cases to the courts.

In terms of what the family justice system might do to respond, Sir Andrew firstly suggested that practice around pre-proceedings should be looked at, particularly in terms of the extent of Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service involvement at this stage, as well as whether the current provision of legal aid for parents was sufficient.

In light of the rising number of children being returned home either under a full care order or a supervision order, alongside the growth of Special Guardianship Orders, he also touched on the 26-week deadline for public law cases. In what he described as a 'preliminary thought', he called for debate over whether in these types of cases the potential for extensions under s 32(5) of the Children Act should be more widely employed.

Finally, Sir Andrew looked at the rise in care proceedings in the first week of life, and questioned whether the time has come to consider reform to allow for 'the exercise of a prospective pre-birth jurisdiction in appropriate cases'.

On private law, the President stated that the private law programme isn't working, and that there are 'far too many parents coming to the court when they have no need to do so'. He stated that he intends to return to this issue in more detail in a lecture at the Resolution Annual Conference on 5 April.

The full speech can be foundĀ here.

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