by Serena Anand and Megan Bennie
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Drop in Private Law Cases in the Family Courts

by Serena Anand and Megan Bennie

CAFCASS, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, which represents children in Family Court cases in England and Wales recently reported a decline in new private law cases.

They compared the number of new cases received in both February and May 2018 with the same months in previous years. How, then, can such a decline be explained? It would not be surprising that many might want to avoid the often lengthy and costly court process. Or, perhaps, is it the result of cuts to legal aid that are impacting on the number of parents taking up the court’s service, which in itself raises difficult questions about access to justice and the impact on families.

The Rise of Mediation

The decline in new private law cases could, in part, be explained by an increased acceptance of mediation. Mediation is a voluntary process through which personal disputes are resolved using an independent third party (a “mediator”) to help facilitate an agreement. The Family Court of England & Wales has been advocating for the use of mediation before turning to court for a long time. This is because mediation can can often lead to resolution more quickly and cost-effectively than going through court proceedings. Additionally, the more cases that are resolved out of court results in the added benefit of reducing the significant caseload of courts around the country. When considering mediation, it is advisable that you seek legal advice first. This is something Grayfords can help with.

Costs and Cuts

However, the decline cannot be totally explained through an increase in embracing an out of court approach. There is another, perhaps more immediate, reason to explain the drop in private law cases. The decline in cases going to court can also be explained by the significant cut to legal aid eligibility for private family law disputes. As such, it may be that separated parents can simply no longer afford to attend court.

Looking to CAFCASS’ broader data, new cases received by the courts have dropped from 10% of all total cases between April 2015 – March 2016 to a significantly lower 3.8% between April 2017 – March 2018. As such, it will be interesting to follow these statistics over a longer period of time to determine whether annual figures continue to decline.

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