Operations of the Family Courts - Justice Committee Contents

Supplementary evidence from the Ministry of Justice (FC 60)


1.    During his evidence giving at the select committee session yesterday morning, the Minister stated "HMCS management information shows that in 2009-10, divorce cases where both parties were represented took over 50% longer on average than those where neither were represented." The Committee asked for more information on this.

2.    This information was based on that set out in a written response to Simon Hart MP on 13 December (see Annex A, below). This shows that the mean duration of divorce cases was 34.1 weeks where neither party was represented, and 55.7 weeks where both parties were represented (an increase of around 63%).

3.    This information should be treated carefully. It does not demonstrate a causal link between representation and case duration. It may be that a case where both parties are unrepresented is simpler, for example.

4.    It is also important to note that "divorce" is being used in the legal sense of the dissolution of a marriage, and not the colloquial sense of including the issues that might arise from divorce, such as child contact. These latter cases are covered under the "Private Law" heading in the figures below.

5.    The data is subject to a number of other issues which should be borne in mind when drawing inferences from the figures, and as a result should be treated with caution. Many of these were highlighted in the original PQ reply. For example, the statistics are simply based on whether or not the case management information system has details recorded of a legal representative for the parties in these cases; the absence of information being recorded does not necessarily mean a party has represented themselves; the recording of such details does not mean that a party did not represent themselves at some stage(s) in the process. The statistics cover only cases dealt with at the High Court and county courts and do not include cases dealt with at Family Proceedings Courts (although for divorce cases specifically the vast majority are dealt with in the former two courts). More generally, all family court statistics carry the limitations associated with management information sources.

6.    This said, we can safely assert that the data as it stands does not support the proposition that cases where parties are unrepresented take longer than those with representation (especially where both parties are unrepresented).

7.    The Department will seek to further analyse this data, along with conducting the review of existing published research on litigants in person and analysing the information from the case file review which the Secretary of State referenced in his letter of 27 January to the Committee. This evidence will contribute to the analysis in the final Impact Assessments due to be published alongside the legal aid consultation response in spring 2011. There will also be a post-implementation review of any reforms.

Annex A


Simon Hart: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what assessment he has made of the effect on the average length of time a case is in the family courts of litigants choosing to represent themselves; and if he will make a treatment. [29691]

Mr Djanogly: The Ministry of Justice has not made an assessment of the effects on the average length of time a case takes in the family courts of litigants choosing to represent themselves.

We do have information on whether or not the applicant(s) and respondent(s) in the case had a legal representative. It should be noted that parties without a recorded representative are not necessarily litigants in person.

The following table gives details of the average durations of family cases completed in the financial year 2009-10, split by case type and by whether or not the applicant(s) and respondent(s) in the case had a legal representative.

Figures are only given for the High Court and the county courts as information is not available for all Family Proceedings courts. The High Court and county courts hear almost all divorce cases, about 25% of all public law cases and about 80% of all private law cases.

Average duration of cases completed in county courts or the High Court in England and Wales
between 1 April 2009 and 31 March 2010, by legal representation
Public law
Private law
Legal representativeMean duration (weeks) Number of decrees absoluteMean duration (weeks) Number of ordersMean duration (weeks) Number of orders
Both applicant and respondent55.7 40,08854.5680 37.823,738
Applicant only44.644,904 36.54627.9 9,280
Respondent only59.72,707 56.22,57544.7 3,573
Neither applicant nor respondent34.1 28,79634.181 38.62,710

Figures are given where the applicant/respondent's representative has been recorded or left blank. Therefore, it should be noted that parties without a recorded representative are not necessarily litigants in person.

1. Figures include dissolutions of marriage or civil partnership and annulments of marriage or civil partnership.
2. The duration is calculated from the earliest recorded petition date to the earliest recorded decree absolute date.
3. Figures exclude cases where there is no record of a petition and cases where the decree absolute date is before the petition.
4. Time from petition to decree absolute may be affected by the time it takes the applicant to apply for the decree absolute once the decree nisi (first order) has been issued. In normal circumstances the applicant may apply for the decree absolute six weeks after the decree nisi has been issued, but (s)he may choose to wait longer than this.
5. The mean is the total of all of the durations, divided by the number of decrees absolute.

Public and Private Law:
1. Private law refers to cases brought under the Children Act 1989 where two or more individuals, usually separated parents, are trying to resolve a private dispute about their child(ren). Public law refers to child welfare cases where a local authority, or other authorised person, is stepping in to protect a child from harm or neglect.
2. Private law includes cases where a section 8 order (contact, residence, prohibited steps, specific issue) was made or where a parental responsibility order was made. Public law includes cases where a care order or a supervision order was made. This does not necessarily mean that these were the orders applied for.
3. The durations in both case types are calculated from the earliest application date (or the date the case was transferred in to the court if that is earlier) to the date of the order event.
4. A case is defined as applicant represented if at least one applicant in the case has a recorded representative. Similarly with respondents.
5. The mean is the total of all of the durations, divided by the number of orders.
Source: HMCS FamilyMan system

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Prepared 14 July 2011