England: Top family judge appeals for charity donations to improve courts’ efficiency

England: Top family judge appeals for charity donations to improve courts' efficiency

The most senior family judge in England and Wales has appealed to law firms to make donations to a legal charity to help tackle delays in the family courts.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, said that “modest annual contributions” to Support Through Court, a charity providing free support to litigants in person, would help to keep the courts functioning amid devastating budget cuts.

The judge warned that the family courts are experiencing “the highest recorded volume of private law cases” and that “many of these now involve litigants in person”, The Times reports.

Family law association Resolution has presented Sir Andrew with a report cataloguing mistakes and failures in the courts which it has blamed on a shortage of resources.

Joanne Edwards, of Resolution’s family law reform group, said: “Things are seriously wrong at the moment. It is taking far longer for couples to get divorced than ever it did.

“As I understand it, when court staff process applications they don’t look at names, they look at the case number so I’ve known one or two cases where they’ve got a digit wrong and they’ve unwittingly granted decree absolute, the final decree of divorce, on the wrong case.”

She added: “We have huge concern for the litigants in person in the system. Very many never pursue their rights to see their children or make financial claims because they don’t know how. So that’s a false economy because they may become dependent on the state.”

Sir Andrew said: “It seems reasonable to me to invite each of the main private client family law firms and barristers’ chambers to consider making modest annual contributions to enable Support Through Court to provide their extremely valuable facilities throughout England and Wales.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: “An increase in legal advisers, staff and sitting days has improved performance and helped reduce delays in divorce proceedings.

“We have also introduced online applications as part of our £1bn transformation of the justice system, leading to significantly fewer errors and a simpler application process. In most cases we aim to help people avoid the courts altogether by providing early legal advice.”

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