The latest Family Court statistics published today (31 March 2016) show that the proportion of cases with unrepresented parties is continuing to rise.
The figures published by the Ministry of Justice, covering the period of October to December 2015, show that around the time that the LASPO reforms were implemented there was a marked increase in the number and proportion of cases where neither party are represented, with an equivalent drop in the proportion of those cases where both parties were represented.
The proportion of parties in private law cases without legal representation currently stands at 36%.
Last year the Justice Select Committee highlighted how the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 is causing enormous strain on the family courts and poorer outcomes for those going through the justice system. It concluded that the changes to civil legal aid have meant that many people, including those that are most vulnerable, are no longer able to access justice.
According to the statistical bulletin, 'The legal representation status reflects whether the applicant/respondent's legal representative has been recorded or left blank within FamilyMan, the family court case management system. Therefore, parties recorded as without legal representation are not necessarily self-representing litigants in person.'
Other key findings include:
The number of cases that started in family courts in England and Wales in October to December 2015 was 62,456, up 6% compared to the equivalent quarter of 2014, but maintaining a fairly steady flat trend. Nearly half of new cases are divorce cases.
The average time for the disposal of a care or supervision application made in October to December 2015 was 28 weeks, and the trend over the past year has remained stable at this level following the longer term downward trend seen since 2011. The quarter-by-quarter details are on page 9 of the bulletin.
60% of care or supervision proceedings were disposed of within 26 weeks, following on from the 26 week time limit for completing these cases introduced in the Children and Families Act 2014.
There has been a decrease in the time taken for private law cases overall in the last year: down 1.3 weeks to 14.1 weeks – trend seen post-LASPO reforms during 2013 and early 2014 now seems to be reversing with timeliness returning to pre-LASPO levels.
Following a rise in the number of applications for non-molestation domestic violence remedy orders during 2013, the trend has remained steady over the last two years.
Following their introduction in July 2015, there were 47 applications and 32 orders made for Female Genital Mutilation Protection Orders (FGMPOs) up to the end of December 2015.
The recent downward trend in the number of adoption orders issued was maintained, with an 11% drop seen in October to December 2015 compared to the equivalent quarter for 2014, driven by the number of adoption orders issued to male/female couples falling by 16%.
There has been a gradual upward trend in the total number of applications and orders made under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
Applications relating to deprivation of liberty increased from 109 in 2013 to 525 in 2014 to 1,499 in 2015. There were 489 applications made in the latest quarter October to December 2015. The overall upward trend follows the Supreme Court decision on 19 March 20141 whereby it was considered a person could be deprived of their liberty in their own home, sheltered accommodation etc, and not just the nursing homes and hospitals which were previously covered.
There were 134,363 Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) in October to December 2015, the highest quarterly figure so far and up 40% on the same quarter for 2014. This is largely due to increased publicity and new online forms which have been introduced to make it simpler and faster to apply for LPAs.
The statistical bulletin is available to download here.