family law court books with a judge gavel on top

In the same week that the Court computer system experienced significant difficulties the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane has highlighted, the unprecedented and unsustainable volume of cases in the family justice system. This, he says, is his Number One priority.

Sir Andrew notes that the workload pressure has increased in private law cases relating to children, where there are a high number of applications and a substantial rise in the proportion of litigants in person. There is a further problem concerning the availability of medical expert witnesses. Working Groups will be convened to make proposals for change by Easter 2019.

The President acknowledges that in the meantime every professional working in the Family Courts must continue to experience the adverse impact of the high volume of cases. In this regard, he says:

“For the time being, some corners may have to be cut and some time limits exceeded; to  attempt to  do otherwise in  a  situation  where  the  pressure  is  sustained, remorseless and relentless, is to risk the burn out of key and valued individuals in a system which is already sparsely manned in terms of lawyers, court staff and judges.

I would encourage local dialogue between the legal profession and each DFJ on this topic so that some parameters may be agreed as to what is and is not sensible or acceptable in terms of working practices during the next six months or more.  The following are no more than suggestions for what might be discussed and agreed:

  • The earliest time of day when the court can reasonably be expected to sit;
    • The latest time of day when the court can reasonably be expected to sit;
    • The latest time in the evening, and the earliest time in the morning, when it is acceptable to send an email to another lawyer in a case or to the court;
    • Reducing the components to be expected in a ‘Position Statement’ to the minimum required (for example simply one side of A4 using bullet points) on the basis that a fuller oral position can be outlined at court if required.”

The increasing pressures upon the family justice system and ever increasing complexity of issues illustrate the need to instruct specialist and experienced solicitors at the earliest opportunity.