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18 October 2016

Leading family lawyer calls for action on 'endemic' court delays

The government needs to take urgent action to secure the viability and sustainability of the family courts in response to the rising number of litigants and a sharp decline in funding, a leading family lawyer has said, reports Solicitors’ Journal.

‘Everyone who uses the family courts on a daily basis… knows that the system is massively stretched,’ said Philip J Marshall QC. ‘Delay is now endemic at all levels. This, perhaps, is particularly acute in family cases, in which there is an over-abundance of litigants in person, particularly at appeal court level.’

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The chairman of the Family Law Bar Association said his comments weren’t meant to sound defeatist. They were, he said in a communication to FLBA members, ‘an acknowledgment of the reality of the enormous challenge that we all face day in, day out simply to get cases heard’.

Calling on the Ministry of Justice and the Treasury to take notice, he said the government needed to ‘act now and inject urgently needed additional funds into the family justice system’.

Marshall was echoing remarks by Lord Justice Munby, who last month in his 14th View said family justice faced ‘a clear and imminent crisis… for which we are ill prepared and where there is no clear strategy to manage the crisis’.

‘Such observations are unprecedented in my experience,’ the FLBA chairman said.
Marshall said the surge in care cases was a particular issue in its own right but that it also had serious implications for the whole of the family justice system, including the system’s ability to process private law cases appropriately. ‘And if the private law cases abandon the family courts in favour of privately funded alternatives, there is a real danger that we will indeed begin to see a two-tier justice system dependent solely on the ability (or inability) to pay,’ he said. ‘That is something we cannot allow to happen.’
The FLBA chair said he was not ignoring the £700m – ‘or is it now £1bn?’ – to be invested in the courts system as part of the development of the online court project but he said the requirement was for additional funding year-on-year.

‘Perhaps some public acknowledgment or even a response – i.e. any response – to the president’s statement would be a good start. I’m not aware that any has been forthcoming,’ he concluded.