Cases in Family Court Increase with Lockdown

Previous reports show that there have been sharp increases in the number of domestic violence incidents and divorce applications due to the stresses and strains placed on relationships during the pandemic. This has naturally led to the volume of cases going before the courts increasing to keep pace, and has led to court cases taking longer to come to a conclusion.

The quarterly bulletin of the Ministry of Justice’s Family Court Statistics, covering the period October to December 2020, reveal that 68,643 new cases started in Family courts, an increase of 6% on the same period in 2019. Domestic violence cases saw the biggest jump, up 21%.

The bulletin revealed that on average care or supervision cases took 41 weeks to reach a final hearing stage during the quarter, a rise of 8 weeks over the same period in 2019. On average throughout the year cases took 38 weeks to arrive at a final hearing, an increase of 5 weeks compared with 2019.

For divorces, a total of 28,672 petitions were filed from October to December 2020, a 5% increase on 2019. There were 23,810 decree absolutes granted in this period, down 24% from the previous year. The average time from petition to decree nisi in the last quarter was 30 weeks, and to decree absolute was 56 weeks, up 2 weeks and 4 weeks from the previous year. Over the twelve month period the averages were 28 and 53 weeks.

The report states that applications for domestic violence protection orders were up by 19% compared to the same period in 2019. In total there were 35,984 applications made in 2020, an increase of 20% over the previous year, reflecting the strains on relationships the pandemic has caused.

What is clear from these figures is that virtually all cases going through the Family court have been subject to delays over the course of the last 12 months. Much of this can be attributed to the effects of the coronavirus on society and working practices, with court staff, solicitors, social workers and others subject to illness, self-isolating, and remote working. These have all contributed to delays and disruption. Remote hearings and video conferencing have helped to plug the gap caused by the enforced physical closure of court rooms, but systems and procedures have taken time to get up to speed. Inevitably these delays have had a harmful effect on the most vulnerable: abuse victims, couples in divorce cases, and children in the care system, all of whom have been left waiting longer for their futures to be decided.

The Child Law and Family Law departments at Bretherton Law have been helping families in Hertfordshire for over 50 years, offering professional, experienced and sympathetic advice to those in need. We are proud to be accredited by the Law Society in Family and Children Law, and are members of Resolution, the organisation representing family lawyers and other professionals in the field. Contact us on 01727 869293, or use the contact form below. 

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Family Court Statistics Quarterly: October to December 2020