MOJ publishes experimental statistics providing the results of analyses of estimated hearing duration in Private Law cases in England and Wales.
There is some evidence that hearings where both parties are represented have increased in duration whilst hearings where neither party is represented have decreased in duration.
According to figures released by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), hearings where neither party is represented have decreased in duration, compared to hearings where both parties are represented.
The MOJs experimental statistics bulletin presents the result of exploratory analyses into the impact of an increased number of parties without legal representation in Private Law cases on the number of hearings and hearing duration.
Private Law refers to Children Act 1989 cases where two or more parties are trying to resolve a private dispute. This is commonly where parents have split-up and there is a disagreement about contact with, or residence of, their children.
The average hearing duration for cases starting between April 2012 and March 2013 (pre-LASPO) and disposed of within 12 weeks was compared with that for cases starting between April 2013 and March 2014 (post-LASPO) and disposed of within 12 weeks. Initial findings show:
a. No change in overall average (mean) hearing durations. There is some evidence that hearings where both parties are represented have increased in duration whilst hearings where neither party is represented have decreased in duration.
b. Directions hearings have increased in average (mean) duration across most representation types. Full hearings have decreased in average (mean) duration, particularly for hearings in which neither party were represented.
c. Median hearing durations (not detailed in this paper) have remained unchanged across all hearing types and representation types, except for full hearings in which neither party was represented. Median hearing durations for these hearings have decreased from 300 minutes (2012/13 median) to 180 minutes (2013/14 median).
d. A substantial decrease in average hearings per case, though this appears to be part of a longer term trend.
According to the report, there is no strong evidence from the data sources examined that hearing durations have significantly changed over time. However, the report stresses that there are a number of caveats with this finding, the most important of which is that the data analysed are based on estimated rather than actual hearing durations.
Commenting on these findings, Marc Lopatin, founder of Lawyer Supported Mediation, said:
'Irrespective of court time, litigants in person are at least in a dispute resolution process. But what of the tens of thousands of families now turning their back on the family justice system altogether? Prior to LASPO, barely half of separating and divorcing couples sought legal advice about their situation. Post LASPO, we're entering an era where family law services are simply beyond the means of most families.'The full report is available to download here.
What do you make of these preliminary findings? Who's to blame for the delays in the family courts? Why not add your view to the debate by commenting below or via Twitter.