The current volume of family law cases is “‘unprecedented” and “unsustainable”, a leading expert has revealed.
The warning comes after the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, launched a major review of public and private family law cases.
The potential reforms – which include some 87 recommendations – would ask judges to “get tougher” on making sure parents attend mediation and information assessment meetings (MIAMs) before filing their petition with the courts.
Under the recommendation, court staff should be prepared to “enforce” the MIAM requirement before the first hearing, providing no valid exemption has been claimed and there is no safeguarding issue.
The recommendations have been made by the leader of the public law group, Mr Justice Keehan, and the leader of the private law group, Mr Justice Cobb.
The review shows an unsustainable rise in the number of public law proceedings issued between 2016 and 2018 by the “same, if not fewer, number of social workers, care professionals, children’s guardians, lawyers and judges”. It attributes this to the growing number of family law professionals choosing to leave the sector because of the “incessant and overwhelming demands of the family justice system”.
In private law, meanwhile, the number of family law cases received by the courts in March increased to 4,166 – an 18 per cent rise compared to March 2018 and the highest ever on record.
Commenting on the recommendations, Sir McFarlane said “the system is trying to run up a down escalator”, adding that the “the current volume of cases is ‘unprecedented and, on current resources, unsustainable”.
“Delay in decision making is likely to be contrary to a child’s best interests. There is both a human and a legal requirement on the family court to consider and determine children cases in the course of a matter of weeks or months, with an upper statutory limit on public law care proceedings in 26 weeks”, he said.
Graeme Fraser, Head of Family and Partner at North London law firm OGR Stock Denton LLP commented:
“There are far too many cases coming through our courts, but there is a need to promote public awareness of and use of other specialist dispute resolution processes including arbitration, collaborative law and early neutral evaluation. Mediation should be considered throughout not just at the start. Promotion of early legal advice and restoration of public funding would be tremendously helpful”.
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