The number of childcare cases in England and Wales have hit records highs in the last three years which has resulted in the family Courts system being strained and having to “run up a down escalator”.
According to Sir Andrew McFarlane (President of the Family Division), who has commissioned a review of the family Courts system, the reason for this could be related to the cuts in legal aid, meaning that parents are not being provided advice from a solicitor in relation to their circumstances and are instead making “emotionally charged” Court applications and then representing themselves. In many instances, the need for these applications and the subsequent hearings could be avoided.
If these parents were provided with sound legal advice regarding their circumstances they may not end up making a Court application, which would consequently result in putting less pressure on the Courts.
Review of childcare cases
The review commissioned two groups to examine children law cases in the Court system and how the system could be changed. They found in their interim reports that the number of public (applications by parents for their children) and private (applications by Local Authorities) childcare cases had risen significantly since 2016 and there is no indication that this trend would stop in the immediate future.
The review highlighted that the amount of private law applications is at an all-time high with 53,164 cases, which related to 123,334 children.
One of the ways that the pressure on the Courts could be lessened is by encouraging parents to resolve any private law disputes regarding a child’s arrangements via mediation or dispute resolution. A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice commented:
“Legal aid remains available for family mediation and we are working to increase awareness of out-of-court dispute resolution to reduce the number of cases which come to court unnecessarily,”
The report also found that the number of public law applications for care or supervision orders has increased by 25% since 2016. Sir Andrew McFarlane believes that Local Authorities should be doing a more thorough assessment of each case before making an application to the Court, commenting:
“It feels to me as if we are running up a down escalator…We are running – people are working flat out to deal with the volume of cases. Although we may be holding our own, bit by bit we’re slipping backwards.
“Time spent in reconnaissance by the local authority, and frankly money spent in looking at the problem in depth before they come, is likely either to lead to those cases not coming at all, or if they do come, they’ll be match-fit.”
The interim reports by the groups were published earlier this month. The consultation period is now taking place and will close on 30th September 2019.
How Nelsons can help
At Nelsons, we have a dedicated team of experts in Derby, Leicester and Nottingham who are able to give specialist advice and representation. If you need advice on child contact arrangements or any other family law related matters, please contact a member of the team on 0800 024 1976 or via our online form.