Weekly Family Law Update December 22, 2020

Judicial bias, Family Court statistics and Cafcass figures

Judge excuses herself due to family connection

A judge dealing with a dispute between parents over arrangements for their children has excused herself from the case, after becoming aware of  connection between her family and the mother involved in the case.

The judge had already made findings that the father had engaged in a pattern of abusive, violent and aggressive behaviour within his personal relationships, and was due to be further involved in the case.

However, because of the family connection, she excused herself, to avoid any suggestion of judicial bias.  When the case went back to the court, the judge’s findings were set aside, because of the possibility of bias.

However, the mother’s solicitors then sought further information about the judge excusing herself from the case. She explained that the family connection was that her son and the mother were members of the same local hockey club, that the mother was a friend of the son on Facebook, and that each follows the other on Instagram. She also stated that she had not known of this connection until June 2020, after she had made the findings against the father.

The mother therefore appealed against the setting aside of the findings, to the Court of Appeal. In view of the fact that the judge had not been aware of the family connection when she made the findings, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, and reinstated the findings.

Latest Family Court Statistics

The Ministry of justice has published its latest statistics for the Family Court, for the quarter July to September 2020.

Amongst the main points were:

That 68,805 new cases started in Family courts in July to September 2020, similar to the same quarter in 2019. This is due to a combination of increases in private law (up 8%), financial remedy (up 5%) and domestic violence remedy case starts (up 26%), and decreases in adoption (down 12%) and matrimonial case starts (down 10%).

That there were 27,803 divorce petitions filed in July to September 2020, down 10% on the equivalent quarter in 2019. There were 22,097 decree absolutes granted in July to September 2020, a decrease of 24% from the same period last year.

And that the number of domestic violence remedy order applications increased by 26% compared to the equivalent quarter in 2019, while the number of orders made increased by 18% over the same period.

A statistician commented:

“The impact of Covid-19 continues to be seen across family court activity this quarter. The start of recovery has been noticeable, particularly in the number of new cases started as well as increases in the number of disposed cases across most areas since the first lockdown period. However, the impacts to timeliness measures continue, with work progressing to address the impact to the family justice system.”

Latest Cafcass figures for children cases

The latest figures for public law (including care) applications and private law demand (mainly child arrangements applications), for November 2020, have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings.

In that month the service received 1,501 new public law cases, featuring 2,319 children; this represents a decrease of 2.1% (32 public law cases) and a decrease of 3.9% (95 children) on the 1,533 new public law cases received and the 2,414 children on those cases in November 2019.

As to private law demand, Cafcass received 4,088 new private law cases in November 2020, which is 114 cases (3.7%) more than the same period in 2019. These cases involved 6,126 children, which is 69 (1.1%) more children than November 2019.