Family Court statistics reveal impact of Covid-19 as fewer care cases disposed of within 26-week timeframe, but latest data suggests return to pre-pandemic levels

The average time for a care or supervision case to reach first disposal was 36 weeks in April to June 2020­­­­, up three weeks from the same quarter in 2019, as the impact of COVID-19 was felt on family court activity.

The Ministry of Justice’s Family Court Statistics Quarterly: April to June 2020 - released last week - said this was the highest average since mid-2013.

The publication also revealed that just 34% of cases were disposed of within the statutory target of 26 weeks introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014. This was down 7 percentage points compared to the same period in 2019.

Other key findings from the quarterly publication include:

  • In April to June 2020, 56,867 new cases started in family courts, down 13% on the equivalent quarter in 2019. This was due to decreases in most case types: financial remedy (30%), matrimonial (18%), adoption (24%), private law (7%), and public law (4%) cases. However, there was an increase in domestic violence case starts (see below).
  • There were 4,454 public law cases starting in April to June 2020 (down 4%).
  • There was a 35% decrease in adoption applications to 798, compared to the equivalent quarter in 2019. The number of adoption orders issued decreased by 52% to 584.
  • There were record numbers of domestic violence remedy order applications and orders made. The number of domestic violence remedy order applications increased by 24% compared to the same quarter in 2019, while the number of orders made increased by 17% over the same period.
  • There were 1,020 applications relating to deprivation of liberty over the period, down 26% on the equivalent quarter in 2019. Orders increased by 33% in the latest quarter compared to the same period last year.

The quarterly highlighted HMCTS’ publication of weekly management information (MI) after the period covered by the quarterly and up to 23 August 2020.

It said: “Taking an average over the four weeks ending 23rd August in order to assess the most recent impact of the lockdown period, the MI shows that there was minimal impact on public law receipts throughout the period when compared to the pre-Covid-19 baseline (based on an average across the six months September 2019 to February 2020), whilst disposals seem to be close to pre-Covid-19 levels after a substantial drop at the start of summer.”

The statistician’s comment on the data overall said: “The impacts of Covid-19 can be seen in the relatively low volume of cases across most areas of family justice this quarter. During the initial Covid response, administrative and judicial resource was a significant challenge, resulting in a number of courts suspending operations for a period. This led to unprecedented falls in volumes, and substantial changes to timeliness measures.

“The exception to this general trend is for domestic violence remedy cases, which saw substantial increases in both new cases starting and cases that reached a final disposal – up 24% and 36% respectively and both are at record levels since the published time series began.”

It added that “as society and the economy begins to recover from the impact of Covid-19, it is expected that case volumes will return to historic trend levels and may even temporarily exceed the pre-Covid-19 volumes as the backlog of cases is processed”.

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