A week in family law: Caseloads, mediation and grandparents’ rights

Family Law|Industry News|December 21st 2018

A week in family law

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for November 2018, have been published by Cafcass. In that month the service received a total of 1,214 new care applications, 1.2 per cent less than November 2017. The total number of new public law cases during the current year (since April 2018) is running at just under 2 per cent lower than last year. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 4,111 new private law cases, which is 9.1% higher than November 2017. The total number of new private law cases during the current year (since April 2018) is running at nearly 3 per cent higher than last year. So the pattern seems to be becoming clearer: modest decreases in public law cases, but modest increases in private law cases.

Still on the subject of statistics, the latest ones for legal aid, for the quarter July to September 2018, have been published by the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Aid Agency. Amongst other things, the statistics showed that Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (‘MIAM’) volumes were 5% lower than in the same quarter of 2017, and that mediation starts decreased by 3%, and are now running at just under half the levels they were at prior to legal aid being abolished for most private law family matters in 2013. A stunning success for the government’s policy to fill the void left by abolishing legal aid with more cases being settled by mediation. Of course, as has been pointed out many times, the main reason for fewer mediations is that solicitors used to ‘direct’ many cases into mediation, but were taken ‘out of the loop’ by the abolition of legal aid. Perhaps that fact might encourage the government to restore legal aid for early advice, when it finally gets round to finishing its legal aid review in the New Year.

Perhaps the most notable thing shown by the legal aid statistics with regard to family matters, however, is the ‘bottom line’, i.e. the total expenditure during the period. The statistics show that the total family law legal aid expenditure during the quarter was some £138 million, with public law work accounting for some £116 million, and private law work some £22 million. These figures demonstrate just how little (comparatively) is now spent on legal aid for private law family matters. More importantly, however, they show just how costly public law legal aid is, an indication of the scale of the problem of children needing protection in this country.

Moving on, it has been reported that grandparents (and aunts and uncles) may get more ‘access’ rights, under plans being considered by the government. Leaving aside the fact that the term ’access’ was replaced by the term ‘contact’ nearly thirty years ago, the story is that Justice Minister Lucy Frazer QC has agreed to look at the rules allowing grandchildren to maintain contact with grandparents after parental separation, following pressure from MPs and campaigning groups. Specifically, campaigners seem to want two changes: a presumption in favour of contact between the child and its close relatives, and the removal of the requirement for such relatives to have to obtain the leave of the court before they can apply for a child arrangements (i.e. contact) order. As to the former, a presumption didn’t make any real difference when it was introduced in relation to parents (it was never going to), and it won’t make any real difference in relation the grandparents/aunts/uncles. As to the latter, is this even news? I seem to recall this being raised a while back. Whatever, the ‘leave’ stage is really little more than a formality in most grandparent contact cases, so again I can’t see that removing it will make much difference.

And finally, yet more statistics for your delectation. Or perhaps not. Experimental statistics on cases processed under the 2012 statutory child maintenance scheme administered by the Child Maintenance Service, between August 2013 and September 2018, have been published, courtesy of the Department for Work and Pensions. I was going to make some pithy comment upon the statistics, but the bacchanalian delights of the holiday season beckon, so I will leave it to you to read them yourself if you so wish, here.

Have a great Xmas and New Year break.

Author: John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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