Children suffer as judges shy away from family work

A shortage of court staff and of judges undertaking family work in London is delaying cases involving vulnerable children and putting them at unnecessary risk, solicitors have warned.

A Law Society survey of 100 solicitors published this week reveals that one in seven cases at London family courts are subject to delay, and that delays of more than six months for a hearing date are common in all types of family law cases.

The organisation warned that, in cases involving young infants, these delays increased the risk of children suffering psychological damage as a result of them being unable to form bonds with their families.

Using the case of an eight-month-old girl embroiled in a custody case between her mother and the local authority as an example, Law Society president Kevin Martin explained: “The case of baby M is ready to be heard but, because of court delays, she will be 15-months-old before her future is decided.

“She is at risk of significant harm due to the delays as this means she is either kept from her mother or prevented from moving permanently to a new family. Psychologists always advise solicitors of the need for infants to bond with their primary carers over this period of time (9-12 months) and of the psychological damage that can occur if relationships are broken during this period.”

The Law Society believes the problem is down to “insufficient ‘judge hours’ being allocated to family matters” and inadequate staff recruitment and training in family courts in London.

In a bid to speed up the listings of family cases at central London courts, it has launched a campaign to raise awareness about the delay and the reasons behind and to press for more judges to undertake family work and for the recruitment of more court staff.

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