Ministry statistics confirm growing England and Wales divorce case backlog
The performance slump has occurred even though the number of cases being submitted to the family courts has fallen. Financial remedy cases filed in the first quarter of 2018 were 7 per cent lower than the corresponding quarter of 2017, while matrimonial cases were down 4 per cent to 27,400. However, deprivation of liberty applications have continued their inexorable rise, jumping by 25 per cent to 1,213 in the same period.
Some of the blame for the increasing delays is being assigned to the crash programme for reform being conducted by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS). Although the introduction of an online divorce application system is likely to speed the process up in future, it has not been going long enough to make an impact on the figures.
Meanwhile, the reorganisation of divorce case administration away from local courts and into a small group of 'regional divorce centres' has brought significant problems for London and South East England. The large number of cases filed from this region are all being directed to the Bury St Edmonds centre, where staff shortages have caused serious delays.
HMCTS posted a bulletin on 19 June, advising practitioners that answers to applications received on 30 May would be processed by Bury St Edmonds in about 59 days. HMCTS Chief Executive Susan Acland-Hood admitted that this was not good enough and should have been corrected earlier, but extra staff were now being recruited.
'The reality is that the pace of change is too rapid and the effect of the swathes of court closures there have been in recent years is huge delay in the system', commented Jo Edwards, Head of Family Law at Forsters.
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