Chief Justice: Family courts in ‘crisis’

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By CJ McKinney on

Retiring Lord Thomas says something must be done on public law cases

The outgoing Lord Chief Justice has warned politicians that rising numbers of cases on taking children into care or adoption has caused a crisis situation for the family courts.

Lord Thomas, who retires on 1 October, said in his annual report to parliament that public law applications in the family courts went up around 20% in both 2015 and 2016 — and are still on the increase. He said:

This rise in caseload comes at a time of static judicial resources. The President of the Family Division has described the situation as a crisis, a view with which the Lord Chief Justice concurs.

Sir James Munby said last year that the system was facing a “clear and imminent crisis”. Last month, the top judge also spoke out about the “massive challenge” in private family law, where “the typical litigant now has no legal representation”.

Lord Thomas mentioned a variety of possible solutions to the inexorable rise in care and adoption applications.

They include settlement conferences — discussions between parents and authorities overseen by a judge — which have proved controversial among family lawyers. Settlement conferences are seen as slanted towards “splitting children from their parents”, as Mrs Justice Pauffley put it at a Family Justice Council debate last December.

In his report to parliament, Lord Thomas also noted that “the judiciary has had to defend its independence” in the past year, which will be taken as a reference to the Daily Mail’s infamous “Enemies of the People” front page. He went on to say that “much more needs to be done in terms of deepening the understanding of the centrality of justice and the rule of law among the public, as well as public servants and politicians working in the executive and legislative branches”.

Sir Ian Burnett will take over as Lord Chief Justice next month, becoming the youngest occupant of the role in half a century.

Read Lord Thomas’ report in full below:

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