Sarah Ingram, Partner at Winckworth Sherwood, comments on new budget allocations for the Family Court, and for the completion of the court reform programme, announced by the government last week.
Rishi Sunak’s announcement in last week’s budget that part of an allocated £324m would be given to the Family Courts over the next year will be positive news for anyone currently dealing with the Family Courts in England. Whilst it still remains to be seen how much of the £324m the Family Courts will receive, it is hoped that this much needed injection of cash into the Family Court system will help increase capacity and tackle the enormous backlog of cases that have been exacerbated by Covid-19. To this backlog have been added 66,357 newly issued cases between April and June 2021, an increase of 14% on the same quarter in 2020 according to the latest Family Court statistics. These new cases have included most case types including financial remedy (76%), private law children (11%), adoption (11%) and matrimonial (7%) cases, although there has been a decrease in domestic violence and public law cases.
Sunak also confirmed that £200m has been granted to complete the flagship £1.3bn court reform programme by 2024/25. This is particularly welcome just a week after the Farquhar Committee, instigated by Family High Court judge, Mr Justice Moylan earlier in 2021, published its reports. The Farquhar Committee is headed by His Honour Judge Farquhar, Lead Judge of the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Financial Remedies Court, and made up of a geographically diverse collection of judges at all levels of the judiciary and practitioners. It was asked to consider and report on how the Court should continue once the pandemic is finally over and parties are free to attend Court buildings. Mr Justice Mostyn also asked them to consider whether the processes and procedures that are in existence in the Financial Remedies Court could be improved and to consider this alongside the function that remote hearings may have to play in the future. Many of the suggested changes put forward by the Farquhar Reports, including helpful amendments to financial disclosure forms in financial proceedings and having dedicated members of staff at the court to deal with financial remedies would most definitely help reduce the legal costs of the parties involved in family proceedings and shorten proceedings but would be costly for the court to implement. Hopefully with the announcement of the additional funds allocated in yesterday’s budget, we will see steps taken towards the rolling out of at least some of the suggested measures raised by the Farquhar Committee in the next year or so.
Sarah’s comment was published in Edward Fennell’s LEGAL DIARY – October 29 2021 Edition.