Operations of the Family Courts - Justice Committee Contents

Supplementary evidence from the Ministry of Justice (FC 73)


1.  Can you supply data for the number of private law cases reaching court for each of the past 10 years?

A table showing Private and Public law applications from the last ten years taken from published sources is attached.

2.  It is often quoted that the number of cases reaching court is 10% of the total number of separating couples. Does the government have any figures on that? Has the proportion reaching court changed over the last 10 years?

Page 142 of the Family Justice Review interim report paras 5.3 and 5.4 summarises this information and provides references, the text is as follows:

5.3—Parents can agree arrangements for children following separation with minimal involvement from the court—one study showed that the great majority (around 90%) do not go to court [Blackwell, A and Dawe, F. (2003): Non-resident parent contact. London, ONS 2003; Office for National Statistics (2008) Omnibus Survey Report No. 38. Non-resident parental contact, 2007-08 A report on research using the National Statistics Omnibus Survey produced on behalf of the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families]. The 90% of couples who did not go to court include around 55% who settled and 30% who did not seek a resolution (including parents who walk away). [Office for National Statistics (2008) Omnibus Survey Report No 38. Non-resident parental contact, 2007-08. A report on research using the National Statistics Omnibus Survey produced on behalf of the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families; Peacey V, Hunt J (2008) Problematic contact after separation and divorce? A national survey of parents One Parent Families/Gingerbread.]

5.4—A survey of contact arrangements showed that around one in ten children with a contact arrangement had this ordered by the court.[Office for National Statistics (2008) Omnibus Survey Report No 38. Non-resident parental contact, 2007-08. A report on research using the National Statistics Omnibus Survey produced on behalf of the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families] It is apparent that the cases that do go to court include some of the most difficult, which have multiple problems [Buchanan, A, Hunt, J Bretherton, H & Bream, V (2001) Families in Conflict: Perspectives of children and parents on the Family Court Welfare Service. Bristol, Policy Press; Trinder, L et al (2006a) Making contact happen or making contact work? The process and outcomes of in-court conciliation. London: DCA].

Table 2.9 of 2007 ONS survey report
Type of contact arrangement Resident parent sample Non-resident parent sample Both samples (average across both groups
2002*2007* 2002*2007* 2002*2007*
Informal arrangements:
Agreed between parties50% 44%60% 55%53%48%
Not agreed35% 41%21%20% 30%33%
Formal arrangements:
Negotiated by mediator/lawyers6% 7%5%9% 6%8%
Ordered by a court9% 8%13%15% 10%11%
Weighted base1012 283481 1641493 447

* weighted for unequal chance of selection

Source: Office for National Statistics: Non-resident parental contact 2002 & 2007



1.  Figures in bold have been calculated and do not themselves appear in the ONS report. This was the methodology used in the evidence base for the 2004 Green Paper Parental Separation: Children's Needs and Parents' Responsibilities.

2.  To obtain an average % for each response type, the sample size of responses in each of the two sample groups is first derived by calculating from the given % in the ONS table the corresponding volume of respondents to that response type. This is then divided by the overall volume for each response type into the overall sample size across the NRP and RP groups.

Produced by Private Law Team, Family Law and Justice Division, Ministry of Justice, October 2009

The 10% figure represents an aggregation on the data relating to resident and non-resident parents seeking contact, attached is a file showing how the figures are aggregated to reach that result. (see clarification below).

3.  Does the Department know why the figures have changed?

The information we hold (supplied in relation to the answer above) suggests that the aggregated 10% figure remained stable between 2002 and 2007.

4.  Can you supply figures for the number of public law cases for each of the last 10 years?

Attached is a table showing Private and Public law applications over time taken from published sources. Table 2.4 in the most recent statistical publication gives a goos stap shot of changes over the last three years:

Public LawPrivate Law3
20106 (p)24,020 122,330
2001724,130 112,010

Judicial Court Statistics publications 2001, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and Court Statistics Quarterly Q4-2020

HMCS FamilyMan system and summary returns. Summary quarterly returns from County Courts (prior to April 2002) and Family Proceedings Courts data (prior to April 2007)


1.  Figures have been rounded to the nearest ten.

2.  Figures relate to the number of children subject to each application.

3.  Private law applications exclude adoptions.

4.  Historically there have been data quality issues with the figures for the Family Proceedings Courts.
A new data collection method, introduced in April 2007, has made some improvements to the completeness of data. Any comparison prior to April 2007 may be affected by an improved data recording.

5.  Comparisons between years should be avoided due to changes in methology over time.

6.  Figures for 2010 are provisional.

7.  Figures for 2001 contain imputed data.

5.  Does the Department have any analysis (for example why the number was declining prior to baby Peter)?

In relation to analysis of application levels the Plowden Report[113] contains a useful table on page 26 showing application levels to FPCs from April 07 to June 09 covering the period of PLO introduction, fees introduction (both April 08) and Baby P serious case review publication (November 08). Data prior to April 07 was collected using paper returns and is thought to be less reliable. Francis Plowden's analysis of the decline in numbers of public law applications prior to Baby P (which is shared by the Department) is that there was a reduction in applications following the introduction of the PLO in part due to an increase in local authorities seeking placements with family members or friends, and pursuing private law cases where they offered a viable and safe alternative, which was in line with the PLO policy intention.

6.  For both public and private law the latest court data seems to be from 2009, is the 2010 data out yet? Could you make it available to the Committee or does the MOJ have any comments?(for example Cafcass's figures suggest that public law has continued to climb but private law may have stabilised)?

The public law section of CSQ uses data up the end of 2010, and states (pg 15):

"There was a 14% drop in the total number of children involved in public law applications made in the fourth quarter of 2010 compared to the equivalent period in 2009, from 6,600 to 5,700. The volume of public law applications has generally fallen in 2010 compared to 2009."

Whilst Cafcass figures do show some increases, HMCTS figures (which although take longer to collect and publish are generally recognised to be more accurate as they are counted by child) show public law applications in decline.[114]

7.  "Letters before proceedings" are sent out before public law cases. Does the Department know how many are sent out each year? Does it know how that figure has changed? Has the relevant inspectorate made any comment about their usefulness, or whether they are used widely enough.

The MOJ does not hold any information on numbers of letter before proceedings, which are issued by Local Authorities, although it should be noted that that The Family Justice Review finds that the use of such letters by local authorities is patchy on a national basis.

As to their usefulness, this again comes into the remit of the policy intentions of the PLO ie to put a limiting factor on the levels of overall care applications by ensuring that the parent is fully aware of the local authorities intentions, has a "last chance" opportunity to demonstrate that they can be a responsible parent, and is encouraged to seek LSC pre-proceedings advice—this is all set out in our "Parents Pack" booklets and leaflets which some local authorities are using.

8.  The Committee asked the MoJ to clarify whether the figure that only 10% of cases reach court was 10% of all parents of 10% of all those seeking contact

The survey in question was a module included in the General Household Survey (GHS) which is regularly undertaken with a sample of UK households by the Office for National Statistics. The GHS is a multipurpose survey covering a range of issues through the use of distinct modules of questions. Our module was very definitely about "contact" in the context of one parent having the child living with them and the other parent living apart from the child.

In 2002 the Lord Chancellor's Department, as was, arranged for a module on non-resident parental contact to be included in the GHS. The GHS interviewed 13,506 adults during the seven months between April 2002 and November 2002. Questions about non-resident parental contact were only asked of respondents who were non-resident or resident parents. Attached to the report for the 2002 survey (see link below) is a copy of the module. A filter question at the beginning asked:

"(May I just check,) Do you have any children under the age of 16 from a previous relationship whose main residence is with the other parent?"

Those who responded "yes" were then invited to respond to the remainder of the module. Those who said "no" were not.[115]

The responses to this module were then analysed and used to extrapolate what the general population of separating couples do in relation to how they agree (or not) contact arrangements. The "10% of all separating parents seek a court order for contact" is derived from the ONS report.

June 2011

113   www.justice.gov.uk/publications/docs/court-fees-child-care-proceedings.pdf Back

114   http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/statistics-and-data/courts-and-sentencing/judicial-quarterly.htm Back

115   http://www.statistics.gov.uk/statbase/Product.asp?vlnk=15188 Back

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Prepared 14 July 2011