Posts tagged ‘legal aid’
The President has handed down Judgement this morning which criticises the impact legal aid cuts are having:
“43. The absence of public funding for those too impoverished to pay for their own representation potentially creates at least three major problems: first, the denial of legal advice and of assistance in drafting documents; second, and most obvious, the denial of professional advocacy in the court room; third, the denial of the ability to bring to court a professional witness whose fees for attending are beyond the ability of the litigant to pay. Each of these problems is, of course, exacerbated if the litigant needs a translator to translate documents and an interpreter to interpret what is going on in court.”
He concludes by saying:
“92. The Ministry of Justice, the LAA and HMCTS may wish to consider the implications. That is a matter for them. For my part I would urge the early attention of both the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group and the Family Procedure Rules Committee to those aspects of the various matters I have canvassed that fall within their respective remits.”
Figures released by the Ministry of Justice have shown a marked increase in the numbers of unrepresented parties ending up in the Family Court since 2012.
Unrepresented parties brought around 25,000 cases in 2012 whereas this figure increased to nearly 35,000 in 2013. Legal Aid cuts implemented in 2013 are thought to be a significant factor in this phenomenon.
As well as the year-on-year figures for child-related cases displaying a marked increase in the numbers of unrepresented parties overall; in relative terms, they made up more than 50 per cent of the child-related cases appearing in the Family Court in the latter part of 2013.
Legal Aid Cuts and Divorce
Since 2013, cuts to legal aid have removed financial assistance for a host of civil claims including many areas of private family law.This means that divorcing couples often feel that they cannot seek professional specialist legal advice due to a lack of personal financial means.
Despite this, the number of divorcing couples heading to court to resolve their differences has not fallen but has increased by around 5 per cent, resulting in significant delays. It has been suggested that the absence of solicitors in the divorce process may have made couples less likely to be informed about the alternatives, leaving them to opt for unnecessarily costly and stressful court proceedings.
Family lawyers are not just experts in family law but they usually have significant experience in alternative dispute resolution techniques such as mediation.
Will the Recent Changes Made by the Children and Families Act 2014 Help?
The Children and Families Act 2014 implemented in April 2014, specifically encourages divorcing couples to focus on the welfare of children by placing time limits on care proceedings and making the use of mediation information meetings compulsory.
Mediation itself is still supported by Legal Aid but the Ministry of Justice figures suggest that mediation’s fell dramatically year on year between 2012 and 2013.
Any experienced family lawyer will confirm that mediation is far less stressful than a full blown court case as well as being quicker and cheaper. However, there are some cases where it may not be suitable such as high value divorce cases or where there is a significant imbalance of means between the parties.
Divorce is often an incredibly stressful experience for all concerned, not least for any children that are involved. Even parties that feel they cannot afford legal advice should at least attempt to speak to family solicitor to see what help is available before heading to court unrepresented. This often turns out to be far more cost effective in the long run. For specialist advice please contact us on 01737 229 610 or email@example.com.
Remember divorce is a life changing event. Make sure the change you make gives you the best opportunity possible to move on with your life and doesn’t cause you difficulties for years to come.
June Venters QC has agreed to be a witness for the Public Law Project with the support of the Law Society and in the capacity as Practitioner and Law Society Family Law Committee Member in an action against the Government for the reductions to the scope of legal aid in family cases, focussing on the DV gateway.