Last week was what I call ‘statistics week’, the week when we are treated to an avalanche of the most recent available statistics for all sorts of family law related things, including on this occasion marriages, legal aid and the Family Court. So, what did this latest instalment of facts and figures add to the sum of our knowledge?
I’ll begin with the statistics for marriages. Specifically, these are for marriages in England and Wales, for the year 2016. They come from the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’). Amongst the headline points were the following:
- There were 249,793 marriages in England and Wales, 1.7% more than in 2015, but 1.0% fewer than in 2014.
- 97.2% of all marriages were between opposite-sex couples and 2.8% were between same-sex couples.
- There were 7,019 marriages between same-sex couples, an increase of 8.1% from 2015; of these marriages, 55.7% were between female couples.
- Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples were lower at all ages compared with 2006, except for men aged 60 years and over and women aged 50 years and over.
The main point to take from this, I think, is that, as the ONS statistician comments, despite the small increase, marriage rates remain at historical lows. This can perhaps be seen most dramatically by a graph included with the statistics showing the number of marriages of opposite-sex couples in England and Wales from 1935 to 2016. Until 1972 the graph generally remained around the 400,000 figure, but since then it has generally been on a downward spiral (of course the overall figures have been ‘buoyed’ over the last two of those years by same-sex marriages). Marriage, it is clear, will never again be the ‘expectation in life’ that it once was. Whether this is a good or bad thing will, of course, depend upon your point of view (it may also be the case that more couples will in future ‘tie the knot’, when civil partnerships become available to opposite-sex couples).
Next up, the legal aid statistics, which were from the Ministry of Justice, for the quarter October to December 2018. Sadly, these days legal aid is not particularly relevant to private family law matters, so there is not a lot to say about these statistics. Probably the most important thing relates to mediation. We are told that:
“In family mediation, Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) increased by 4% in the last quarter compared to the previous year and currently stand at just over a third of pre-LASPO levels. Starts increased by 6% although outcomes increased by 5%, and are now sitting at around half of pre-LASPO levels.”
In plain English, the number of mediations is up a little bit, but is still at half what it was before legal aid was abolished. So I suppose a little bit of good news there, although clearly it is going to take a long time before mediation, which was supposed to ‘replace’ legal aid, will even return to what it was before the legal aid cuts. As I have said here before, hardly a ringing endorsement for the government’s ‘flagship’ policy.
And lastly I turn to the Family Court statistics, also from the Ministry of Justice, for the quarter October to December 2018. Amongst the main points here were the following:
- 64,331 new cases started between October and December, up 6% on October to December 2017. For the year as a whole 262,399 new cases started during 2018, up 3% compared to 2017.
- There was an increase in the number of private law children cases started (8%) and cases disposed (3%) to 12,986 and 10,478 respectively. For the year as a whole there were 51,658 Private law cases started in 2018, up 2% compared to 2017. The number of Private law cases disposed was 41,939 in 2018, similar to the number in 2017.
- In 2018, it took on average 26 weeks for Private law cases to reach a final order, i.e. case closure, up three weeks compared to 2017.
- There were 118,141 divorce petitions made during 2018, up 8% on 2017 – more in line with the number of petitions seen annually prior to the low number in 2017.
So in short, more cases, taking longer. Not very good news, either for the users of the Family Courts, or for those who work in them.