The Family Court backlog – an ongoing symptom of COVID-19 and what can be done about it?
2020 has been a difficult and strange year for most people. However, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine being rolled out and the prospect of 2021 starting with a more positive outlook.
The ongoing impact of COVID-19 is likely to be felt for some time and perhaps long after a vaccine has been given to the majority of people.
The Law Society Gazette has today released an article stating that HM Courts & Tribunals Service estimates that private family law cases may not return to pre-covid levels until 2023. This is some 3 years after the pandemic will have started.
In our experience, individuals involved in family law matters want help resolving these as swiftly as possible, so they can look towards their future and move on with the next stage of their life. Whilst some may view the court’s backlog as an administrative issue, the reality is that it will impact many people who are going through a difficult time.
The court is doing what it can to try and ease some of the immediate pressures as well as thinking about longer term actions for improvement. However, at present, backlogs in the family court are still very much a difficult reality and one that we face in practice on a daily basis. This year, we have found that cases are taking considerably longer to be listed for hearings and the court are also taking much longer to respond to correspondence and deal with enquiries.
That said, we have also found that the use of technology for remote hearings via telephone and video (something which in our experience, had not been used very often in the family court prior to the pandemic) to be extremely efficient and to be especially useful for directions hearings.
In addition, we have found the increase in use of the online consent order portal (where draft consent orders are filed online for the judge’s approval rather than sent to court via post) to be much quicker than the previous ‘snail mail’ system. Hopefully, this will be something that continues into the future.
In some cases, the court’s involvement will be needed and the most appropriate option. In such cases, there are ways that your family law solicitor can use their experience and skills to help you progress the proceedings as swiftly and efficiently as possible.
However, in some cases, there may be alternatives to court to help deal with matters more quickly than the court process might allow. Examples include:
- Seeking prompt legal advice and attempting to resolve matters on a voluntary basis at an early stage.
- Considering the use of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, arbitration and private financial dispute resolution appointments.
In addition to the forum used to resolve your case, it is also worth bearing in mind the approach you can take to assist with trying to resolve matters. Whilst focusing on the key issues in the case, progressing a case proportionately and sensibly might sound like ‘a given’, keeping these key principles at the forefront of your mind throughout a case provides a focus which in turn is likely to result in matters being resolved more swiftly.