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This week Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, has launched a consultation into proposals to reform the family law system. In Autumn 2018, the President invited Mr Justice Keehan and Mr Justice Cobb to lead two Working Groups to consider the practices and processes in both public and private law.

The President has been very clear in his view that the current volume of cases is “unprecedented and, on current resources, unsustainable.” He describes that family courts are having to “run up a down escalator” as they try to keep up with the increase in cases.

In respect of Public Law (care proceedings) the group led by Mr Justice Keehan notes that more cases are issued despite the same (if not fewer) social workers, children’s guardians, lawyers and judges working in the system. They state this is due to the “incessant and overwhelming demands of the family justice system.”

Mr Justice Cobb’s consultation in respect of family law notes the significant increase in private law cases. Prior to the legal aid cuts, the number of legally aided certificates was approximately 45,000. This has dropped to less than 11,000. Despite this, cases are still brought to Court with a significantly increased number of litigants in person.

The President acknowledged that it is unlikely that money will be provided to fund the extra resources. The changes proposed will therefore focus on improving efficiency rather than significant changes to the law.

During a presentation regarding the reports on 3 July, President McFarlane said “Delay in decision making is likely to be contrary to the child’s best interests. There is both a human and a legal requirement on the family court to consider and determine children cases in the course of a matter of weeks or months.” He further commented “some of the best ideas come from individuals. It is therefore, my hope that...people will read these documents and become directly engaged in the consultation.” The consultation ends on 30 September with final recommendations to be published in December.

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