Corners may need to be cut in family court cases due to workload, judge warns

A rise in the number of family court cases means corners may have to be cut, a senior judge has warned.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division of the High Court and the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, said every professional involved in the sector is experiencing the “adverse impact” of an increasing workload.

He has spelled out his concern for the well-being of social workers, lawyers, judges and court staff and said in “these highly-pressurised” times, “business as usual” should not be attempted.

The judge outlined his thoughts in a regular missive to lawyers, which has been posted on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website, called “A View from The President’s Chambers”.

Sir Andrew wrote: “Every professional engaged in work in the family courts must, I fear, continue to experience the adverse impact of the high volume of cases.

“In these highly-pressured times, I think that it is neither necessary nor healthy for the courts and the professionals to attempt to undertake ‘business as usual’.

“For the time being, some corners may have to be cut and some time-limits exceeded; to attempt to do otherwise in a situation where the pressure is sustained, remorseless and relentless is to risk the burn-out of key and valued individuals in a system which is already sparely manned in terms of lawyers, court staff and judges.”

He raised similar concerns in a speech to lawyers at a conference in Bristol in November.

He said at that time that research showed the proportion of children who were the subject of an initial child protection investigation had more than doubled, from 80 per 10,000 to 168 per 10,000, in the previous eight years.

He also said too many separated parents were unnecessarily asking family court judges to resolve disputes over children.

Sir Andrew said both kinds of litigation, disputes between parents and care disputes involving councils and parents, had to be dealt with by the “same limited number” of judges, magistrates, court staff, social workers and lawyers.

He added that people were working at an unsustainable level.

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