Problem-solving courts are the only hope of bringing the number of care cases under control, the president of the family division said today as he predicted that new cases could soar to as many as 25,000 by 2020.
Publishing his latest View from the president’s chamber, Sir James Munby (pictured) highlighted a pressing need for a ‘radical rebalancing’ of the functions and purpose of the family court.
‘The family court must become, in much of what it does, a problem-solving court,’ he said.
Last week, the Ministry of Justice announced that it will be introducing problem-solving courts to address offender behaviour.
The ministry’s Transforming our justice system paper states that the department is ’exploring the opportunities for problem-solving methods further with the judiciary and collecting the evidence base’, as well as continuing to trial the approach in locations across the UK.
Munby praised the work of the family drug and alcohol courts, and London-based Pause, which offers support to women at risk of having multiple children being removed from their care, saying they must be nurtured and supported.
He added: ‘FDAC, Pause and similar projects are, at present, the best hope, indeed, in truth, the only hope, we have of bringing the system, the ever increasing numbers of care cases, under control.’
Based on an ‘unduly optimistic assumption’, Munby predicted that the number of new care cases could nudge 20,000 by 2019-20, compared with 6,613 in 2005-6. Should the number of cases rise at a greater rate, figures could reach more than 25,000.
However, further research is needed on various topics to come up with accurate predictions for the future, Munby said, including judicial deployment in care cases.
In the meantime, immediate steps should include speeding up the process of judicial recruitment following the retirement, resignation or death of sitting judges.
‘Far too much time passes while the business case supporting the need for a replacement judge is prepared and considered and then, if the business case is agreed, while the process of advertising and conducting the selection process for a successor goes on,’ Munby said.
Highlighting steps to be taken now, Munby said too many documents were still too long, noting that he will be imposing page limits for certain categories of documents following a consultation earlier this year.