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As well as dealing with crimes, courts make decisions on legal issues. For example, someone may apply to a court to claim an unpaid debt or to obtain a divorce. This topic is here to give you information on this part of the courts’ work.


Children Order Bulletin
Department: Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency
This publication contains information on the Children Order in Northern Ireland in relation to public and private applications entered and dealt with in the Family Proceedings Court, Family Care Centre and the High Court. Information in relation to own motion orders, interim orders, final orders and sitting times is also included.
Civil Judicial Statistics, Scotland
Department: Scottish Government
Statistics relating to the business of civil courts, and legal and public departments.
County Court Bulletin
Department: Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency
This publication contains information on the county court in Northern Ireland in relation to civil bills, equity, ejectment, small claims, criminal damage, divorces, licences and waiting times.
High Court Bulletin
Department: Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency
This publication contains information on the High Court in Northern Ireland in relation to: chancery, Queen's Bench, judicial reviews, probate, wardship and adoption, matrimonial, bails, patients, official solicitors and sitting days and times.
Magistrates' Court Bulletin
Department: Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency
This publication contains information on the criminal magistrates' courts in Northern Ireland in relation to adult and youth magistrates' courts, court sitting times, number and type of charges brought and outcome of defendants. Information on civil applications received and disposed and average waiting times is also included in this publication.

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Civil Justice

Civil (non-family) law covers:

  • contract and tort, for example, debt and personal injury

  • repossession of land and properties

  • insolvency

  • equity and contested probate

  • matters under the race relations Act

  • actions which all parties agree to have heard in county courts, for example, defamation

The majority of these proceedings take place in the county courts. Only the most complex and important cases are heard in the High Court.

Most statistics on these proceedings are published in the annual Judicial and Court Statistics report. In addition, quarterly National Statistics publications cover Mortgage and Landlord Possession Actions and Company Winding up and Bankruptcy petitions filed in the courts of England and Wales.

Family Justice

Family law is the area of law that deals with:

  • parental disputes concerning the upbringing of children

  • local authority intervention to protect children

  • decrees relating to marriage

  • financial provision for children after divorce or relationship breakdown

  • domestic violence remedies

  • adoption

One of the main pieces of legislation used is the Children Act 1989, which covers most matters affecting children.

Family matters are dealt with in the Family Division of the High Court, in county courts, and (except for divorce proceedings) in family proceedings courts (magistrates’ courts that hear family cases). Statistics on many of these family proceedings are published annually in the Judicial and Court Statistics report.

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Technical Data

Civil Justice

A claimant can issue a claim either at a local county court, or online using Money Claim Online or Possession Claim Online. Claimants who issue a large number of claims each year (banks, credit card and store card issuers) can use the services of the Claim Production Centre.

If a claim is defended, it proceeds to be allocated by a judge to one of three case management tracks according to its complexity. Even after allocation to track, the parties can still negotiate to settle the case. There is a different procedure for possession matters, generally resulting in a hearing date being given upon issue of a claim. Judges can then either give an outright order (possession given immediately or by a given date) or a suspended order.

The county court data are sourced from the county court administrative system CaseMan and the Business Management System (BMS). CaseMan generally contains good quality information about the incidence and dates of major case events. However, court workload data taken from the BMS are manually generated and therefore less robust.

The figures for company winding up and court statistics are sourced from the BMS system. To meet the National Statistics quality criteria, extra checks are made to ensure the figures are as accurate as possible.

Family Justice

The data on family law cases currently come from two main sources.

The first is a case management database called FamilyMan. This is used by the county courts, the High Court and some family proceedings courts. It records details on all the family cases they deal with. These details include the court the case is being heard at, the types and dates of applications made, and the types and dates of orders made.

The information is entered by court staff and downloaded on to a central system once a month. The main issues surrounding these data are the completion of non-mandatory fields in the database and the recording of transfers between county courts and family proceedings courts. Where cases aren’t flagged as a transfer the application will be counted twice, once in the county court and once in the family proceedings court. This means that the number of applications will be higher than it should be.

The second source of data is monthly manual returns sent in by family proceedings courts. In terms of the applications and orders these record much the same information as FamilyMan. However, they contain less general information about the cases. They tend to be less reliable as they rely on court staff counting records at the end of the month whereas with FamilyMan, court staff record the applications/orders as they come in.

Work is in progress to extend FamilyMan to include all family proceedings courts. The current plan is that this will be completed in 2010.

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  • Accelerated possession procedure

    Used by landlords in relation to assured shorthold tenancies, when the fixed period of tenancy has come to an end. It enables orders to be made by the court solely on the basis of written evidence and without calling the parties to a hearing.

  • Administration Order

    Enables a debtor to combine a judgment debt and at least one other debt into a single order for the making of regular payments into court, to be distributed to the creditors in the appropriate proportions listed by the debtor.

  • Ancillary relief

    This refers to a number of different types of order used to settle financial disputes during divorce proceedings. Examples include: periodical payments, pension sharing, property adjustment and lump sums and they can be made in favour of either the former spouse or the couple’s children.

  • Attachment of earnings’ order

    Obliges the debtors’ employer to deduct a set sum from the debtor’s pay and forward it to the court.

  • Care Order

    An order bringing a child in to the care of a local authority.

  • Charging Order

    Obtains security for the payment against a property owned by the debtor.

  • Claims issued

    A claimant commences a case by issuing a claim in a county court.

  • Company winding up

    When it becomes necessary to terminate a company's existence, whether owing to insolvency or for some other reason, the process is called 'winding up'.

  • Contact Order

    An order requiring the person with whom a child lives, to allow them to have contact with a named person. This can either be direct, face to face, contact or indirect contact via telephone or email. It is often used when parents split up, to ensure that the non-resident parent can keep in touch with the child, but it can sometimes be made in favour of other relatives, such as the child’s grandparents, as well.

  • County court

    The court that deals with most civil and family cases in England and Wales.

  • Decree Absolute

    This is the final order made in divorce proceedings that can be applied for six weeks and one day after a decree nisi has been given. Once this is received the couple are no longer legally married and are free to remarry.

  • Decree Nisi

    This is the first order made in divorce proceedings and is given when the court is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for granting the divorce. It is used to apply for a decree absolute.

  • Default judgment

    Following no response from the defendant within the allotted time period. This type of judgment is entered as an administrative function and generally does not involve a judge.

  • Divorce

    This is the legal ending of a marriage.

  • Education Supervision Order

    An order giving a local authority power to ensure that the parents or guardians are providing a child with a proper full-time education suitable for their age and ability.

  • Emergency Protection Order

    An order, lasting up to eight days, allowing an authorised individual, or a local authority, to take a child away from a place where they are in immediate danger or keep a child in a place of safety.

  • Family Proceedings Court

    A magistrates’ court that hears family cases. A family proceedings court can hear most types of family law cases, with the exception of divorce proceedings.

  • Financial applications

    A type of order made under the Children Act 1989 regarding financial provisions for children.

  • High Court

    The most powerful court in England and Wales that deals with civil and family cases. However, it only tends to hear the most complex and important cases.

  • Individual bankruptcy

    Being bankrupt means you are or have been subjected to a bankruptcy order. A court makes a bankruptcy order only after a petition has been presented.

  • Insolvency

    A company or individual with debts that they are unable to pay, is said to be insolvent.

  • Judgement by acceptance and determination

    Following the claimant accepting the defendant’s offer to pay all or part of the amount paid. These judgements are entered as an administrative function and generally do not involve a judge.

  • Judicial separation

    This is a type of order that does not dissolve a marriage but absolves the parties from the obligation to live together. This procedure might, for instance, be used if religious beliefs forbid or discourage divorce.

  • Non-molestation Order

    This is a type of civil injunction used in domestic violence cases. It prevents the applicant and/or any relevant children from being molested by someone who has previously been violent towards them. Since July 2007, failing to obey the restrictions of these orders has been a criminal offence for which someone could be arrested.

  • Nullity

    This is where a marriage is ended by being declared not valid. This can either be because the marriage was void (not allowed by law) or because the marriage was voidable (the marriage was legal but there are circumstances that mean it can be treated as if it never took place).

  • Occupation Order

    This is a type of civil injunction used in domestic violence cases. It restricts the rights of a violent partner to enter or live in a shared home.

  • Order of No Order

    A specific type of order used in cases relating to the Children Act 1989 indicating that the court has applied the principle of non-intervention. This states that the court shall not make an order unless doing so would be better for the child than not making an order at all.

  • Order refused

    This indicates that the application for an order has been dismissed.

  • Orders made

    These indicate that a judge has given a named individual or organisation permission to carry out, or prevent, a specific action.

  • Parental Responsibility Order

    An order giving a named person the rights and duties of a parent in relation to a child.

  • Petition (for divorce)

    An application for a decree nisi or a judicial separation order.

  • Power of arrest

    This can be attached to domestic violence injunctions (non-molestation orders and occupation orders) and means that the named person can be arrested if they do not obey the restrictions of the order.

  • Private law

    Refers to Children Act 1989 cases where two or more parties are trying to resolve a private dispute. This is commonly where parents have split up and there is a disagreement about contact with, or residence of, their children.

  • Prohibited Steps Order

    An order preventing a parent from taking specific actions regarding a child without the consent of the court. For example, it can be used to ensure that a father doesn’t take a child abroad without the knowledge and agreement of the child’s mother.

  • Public law

    Refers to Children Act 1989 cases where there are child welfare issues and a local authority, or an authorised person, is stepping in to protect the child and ensure they get the care they need.

  • Recovery Order

    This is used when a child is taken or goes missing. It requires anybody able to do so to hand over the child, or any information about the child’s whereabouts, and allows an authorised person to remove the child.

  • Residence Order

    An order determining who a child lives with.

  • Section 8

    The part of the Children Act 1989 that refers to contact orders, residence orders, prohibited steps orders and specific issue orders.

  • Secure Accommodation Order

    An order authorising a local authority to keep a child in secure accommodation for a specified period of time. The purpose of this is to stop a child running away and causing significant harm to themselves or others.

  • Special Guardianship Order

    An order giving a named person responsibility for the day-to-day care of a child. It is similar to adoption but the legal link between the child and their birth family is maintained and the order can be reviewed at any time until the child reaches 18.  

  • Specific Issue Order

    An order determining how a specific question that has come up in a case is to be resolved. For example, a parent may want to ensure that their child is encouraged to maintain connections to their religious group.

  • Supervision Order

    An order placing a child under the supervision of a local authority or a probation officer.

  • Suspended Orders

    The court makes an order but suspends the operation of it. This frequently happens in possession cases. Provided the defendant complies with the terms of suspension, which usually require the defendant to pay the current mortgage/rent instalments plus some of the accrued arrears, the possession order cannot be enforced.

  • Third Party Debt Order

    Secure payment by freezing and then seizing the money owed or payable by a third party to the debtor.

  • Withdrawn application

    This happens when someone who has applied for an order decides not to go ahead with the application and cancels it before any decision can be made.

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Contact Details

For statistical enquiries about this topic, please contact:

Economics and Statistics Division

Email: statistics.enquiries@justice.gsi.gov.uk

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 3334 3090

Economics and Statistics Division The Ministry of Justice 8th Floor 102 Petty France London SW1H 9AJ

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