Last week a range of quarterly court statistics were published by the MoJ. The condensed version of the summary is that care is up massively and everything else is down (not so as you’d know it to hear the government bang on about all those unnecessary and ever-escalating interminable private law disputes).
But what I thought was quite interesting was the table showing the breakdown as between individual courts (the file labelled Family courts and mediation (CSV) in the right hand column), not least because my own local court (Bristol) sits despondently towards the bottom of the league in terms of speedy resolution of care proceedings, with around 2/3 taking longer than 50 weeks to complete. On average 50% of cases are completed within 50 weeks. In Bristol it is 33%. The average duration of care proceedings in England & Wales is 55 weeks; in Bristol it is 75 weeks. Extrapolating from the figures, it appears that 6% of cases take more than 80 weeks to complete. I can account for at least one of those.
There is an enormous amount of data, and it’s difficult without spending hours poring over it to see a pattern that helps us understand why care cases take so long in Bristol. It seems to me that there are a number of possible explanations, apart from the loquaciousness of those of us practising our advocacy skills there: Bristol has a large contingent of private law children cases, although in fairness other courts with a lot of private law business manage better average case durations for public work. What we aren’t able to add into the mix, and what I think are crucial, are the judicial numbers. Bristol has only 3 family Circuit Judges (two of whom sit in civil / crime) and only 2 (I think) district judges ticketed for care. Listing is a real difficulty, but this also applies to other courts. The geography and spread of other courts in a region impacts upon the complexity and nature of cases which arrive at the door of a care centre. Bristol is the receiving court for many transfers up from outlying FPCs, and is the only court within my regular stomping ground to house more than one family CJ.
There are any number of other factors which might bear upon the meaning of these figures. The raw data is interesting but not much use. I hope that somebody somewhere is busily analysing these figures, placing them in the context of the different demands upon and resources available to individual courts, and trying to draw some useful conclusions about what is making some courts more speedy than others (someone assisting Ryder J is doing just this one hopes). I for one would really like to know if we are doing something different in our neck of the woods, or if it is just external pressures which have inevitably resulted in poorer timescales. I don’t think there is any material difference in case management practice between Bristol and other courts I’m familiar with, although they all have their quirks.