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Thursday, 07 September 2017

Lord Chief Justice warns of family courts crisis over volume of social services applications

Written by Brian Farmer

Family court judges have a crisis on their hands because council social services bosses are making more applications for children to be taken from the care of parents, the most senior judge in England and Wales has suggested.

Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice (pictured), said last year saw a "large and sustained rise" in "public law applications" - council applications for family court judges to make decisions relating to options such as foster care or adoption.

He said the rate of increase had slowed this year but the trend was "still upwards" and that the caseload rise came at a time of "static judicial resources".

Lord Thomas said Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division of the High Court and the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, had described the situation as a "crisis" - and he agreed.

He outlined his concern in his annual report to Parliament.

"2016 saw a large and sustained rise in public law applications," he said.

"Between January and November 2016, the year-on-year increase averaged 20%.

"This was on top of a similar scale of increase in 2015. Since the beginning of 2017, the rate of increase has slowed, but the trend is still upwards.

"There were 5,051 new public law applications in January to March 2017, up 5% on the equivalent quarter in 2016.

"Average case duration is beginning to move up again after a long and sustained fall. It now stands at 28 weeks after several quarters hovering around 27 weeks.

"This rise in caseload comes at a time of static judicial resources.

"The President of the Family Division has described the situation as a crisis, a view with which the Lord Chief Justice concurs."

Lord Thomas said statistical evidence indicated wide variations between local authorities of broadly similar demographics and "measures of deprivation".

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA Wire.