In March, we wrote about some recent cases in which Mrs Justice Lieven in the High Court had talked about the need to ‘make cases smaller’ since the relaunch of the PLO (Public Law Outline) in January 2023. One of these judgments, West Northamptonshire Council (acting via Northamptonshire Children’s Trust) v KA (Mother & Anor) (Intermediaries) [2024] EWHC 79 (Fam), contained gave specific guidance on restricting the appointment of an intermediary to where this was necessary. We commented that it was impossible to see if case duration figures were coming down since the beginning of 2023, because the Ministry of Justice are not publishing them. Their website explains:

The rollout of reform in family courts has introduced a new data management system, Core Case Data (CCD), to collect family data. As each service area undergoes reform, existing cases stay on the legacy system FamilyMan (FM) until they are disposed or closed, while new cases are recorded on CCD with some key details copied back to FM.

Currently, family public law (FPL) is undergoing this reform process. However, not all details are copied across for FPL (such as substantive orders other than final). Until work is completed to amalgamate both FM and CCD, several published data series cannot be maintained. These series have been removed from Q1 (Jan-Mar) 2022 onwards unless otherwise stated:

  • The total number of public law disposals (Table 2)
  • The number of orders granted and children involved in orders granted by order type (Table 4)
  • The number of public law cases started indicated as High Court (Table 7) from Q3 (Jul-Sept) 2022
  • Care and supervision proceedings timeliness (Table 8)
  • Overall public law timeliness (Table 10)
  • The number of Placement Order Applications from Q4 (Oct-Dec) 2022 (Table 18). As a result, the total number of cases started and the total number of applications under the Adoption and Children Act are not provided
  • The total number of adoption cases disposed are not provided.

These series will be reinstated once both data sources have been combined and the data quality assured.

However, we’ve now learnt that Cafcass in England are publishing case duration figures, although they’re not easy to find. We’re grateful to the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory for signposting us to this.

From the data published by Cafcass, we can see that the average care case was taking 44 weeks in July-September 2023 (the most recent figures given) whereas when the President issued the relaunch, they were taking 47 weeks. So there may be a connection between the relaunch and cases taking, on average, three weeks less. Cafcass haven’t run the data since January, so we’ll keep an eye out for updates. Whether cases (including private law) might take any less time following Lieven J’s approach as set out in the cases we highlighted (heard in late 2023-early 2024) would be even trickier to analyse.

Image: ‘Small Worlds’ by Kandinsky – thanks Rob Corder at flickr

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