The president of the family division has thanked court staff for keeping the family justice system running to the best of their ability even though they have been told jobs will go as a result of the government's reform programme.
Sir Andrew McFarlane is halfway through visiting 44 family court centres to understand the 'current unprecedented burden of work', learn about the causes of the rise in caseload and identify coping strategies.
In his latest View from the President's Chambers, published on Monday, he recorded his appreciation for the HM Courts & Tribunals staff 'who keep our system running to the best of their ability in a period that has been made difficult for them, not only by the rise in the number of cases, and not only by the need for the staff to take on board new systems of working that are gradually being rolled out as part of the Reform Programme, but also to undertake their work having been informed that, in due course, a consequence of "Reform" will be a reduction in staff levels at each court centre'.
'I have been extremely impressed by the commitment to the work and the good humour that I have experienced on meeting very many staff members all over the country and, in closing this View, I simply wish to record my thanks to each and every one of them.'
Earlier, McFarlane referred to a speech he gave to family law group Resolution's conference in April, where he acknowledged and apologised, 'despite the best efforts of the individual staff employed there', for the failure of the 11 regional divorce centres to provide an adequate service to progress divorce petitions and make financial remedy consent orders.
The Gazette reported in February that delays at Bury St Edmunds, the main centre for divorces from London and the south-east, reached unprecedented levels in 2018. Last month McFarlane's predecessor, Sir James Munby, criticised HMCTS for being 'unable or unwilling' to resource the divorce centres adequately.
McFarlane said the divorce centres were being 'phased out during the current 12-month period' and being replaced by an online system based at the new national Civil and Family Service Centre in Stoke on Trent.
He said: 'I am confident that the senior staff at HMCTS are entirely clear that the unacceptable service levels currently experienced from the paper-based centres is not to be repeated as Stoke gradually takes on more and more of this work. I have already visited the new centre at Stoke and, while I was impressed by what I saw there, I intend to keep a continuous and keen eye on the process as it moves forward.'