The average time it takes to conclude care proceedings is showing no improvement, according to quarterly statistics published today.
Figures released by the Ministry of Justice, covering April to June, show that the average time for a care and supervision case to reach first disposal remained the same as for January to March - 33 weeks. This is the longest average interval since the last quarter of 2013.
Four in 10 care cases were completed within the statutory 26-week limit introduced in the Children and Families Act 2014.
The impact of the rising number of care cases on the family justice system has been a long-standing concern for presidents of the family division.
In 2016 Sir James Munby described the 'seemingly relentless rise' in the number of new care cases. 'The fact is that we are approaching a crisis for which we are ill-prepared and where there is no clear strategy to manage the crisis,' the now-retired judge said.
Unveiling an action plan to deal with what he called an unprecedented and unsustainable volume of family cases, Sir Andrew McFarlane said 'delay in decision making is likely to be contrary to a child’s best interests'.
Today's statistics also show that the number of divorce petitions was down by 13% in April to June compared to the same period last year. But the mean time from petition to decree absolute was 58 weeks, up three weeks from last year. The ministry pointed out that the 58-week figure is almost two weeks down from the record high that was reached between January and March, which was the result of regional divorce centres processing a backlog of cases.
Family lawyers were quick to comment on the divorce figures.
Desmond O'Donnell, a partner at Kent firm Thomson Snell & Passmore, said various factors were contributing to the time it takes to progress divorce cases, such as more individuals acting in person who often file incorrect paperwork, and a decrease in the number of full-time judges.
Laura Burrows, an associate in the family team at Collyer Bristow, said the figures were no surprise to those working in the family justice system and that the problems would 'not be resolved quickly or easily'.
The latest statistics bulletin covers digital petitions for the first time - 11,129 petitions were made between April and June, representing 40% of all petitions for that period. However, the ministry said the online divorce system began in May 2018 following a small pilot and it was 'too early' to make quarterly comparisons on timeliness.