Lawyers have voiced concern about plans to cut the number of judges and courts dealing with family cases in central London at a time when increasing numbers of litigants in person are expected to put greater strain on the service.
The family justice system is working towards the creation of a single family court, under the Crime and Courts Bill currently going through parliament.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service is looking to create a single central London family court in the building that currently houses the Principal Registry of the Family Division (PRFD), First Avenue House in High Holborn.
Inner London and City Family Proceedings Court will close and be absorbed into the principal registry.
The changes will cut the number of family courts from 32 to 25 and reduce the number of district judges at the principal registry from 20 to 12.
To relieve the burden on the principal registry, there are nascent plans for a new East London Family Court and West London Family Court.
The proposals emerged at a meeting this month of a working group attended by David Jockelson, children law solicitor at Miles & Partners in London. The plans, which have not been subject to formal consultation, have yet to be fully worked out.
Jockelson warned that the changes, combined with the increase in the number of litigants in person due to the removal of legal aid for private law family cases after 1 April and the requirement to complete care cases in six months, is a recipe for a ‘perfect storm’ that will put a huge strain on the court.
He said: ‘There’s a strong suspicion that the real agenda is to see care cases taken out of the court system and dealt with by tribunals.’
Co-chair of the Law Society’s family law committee Naomi Angel said she recognised the financial constraints under which HMCTS is operating, but stressed there are real problems that have to be addressed to make the plans work.
She said: ‘The PRFD is already a court under strain – the counter service is overwhelmed and it can take half an hour to get through security.’
Chair of the Family Law Bar Association Nick Cusworth QC said: ‘The concept is good, but it has to be properly funded. Whether it works at this time of financial constraint remains to be seen.’
HMCTS declined to comment.