SOS Family Court

green mazeThe Judicial Executive Board’s evidence to the Commons Justice Select Committee’s enquiry into the effect of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 has just been published.

This shows that there has been a large increase in litigants in person – those who represent themselves – in the private family courts.  This covers cases about where a child should live, and who a child should spend time with and financial divorce settlements.  This is causing the Courts huge administrative problems, and, as predicted by Resolution, could cause massive delays to the Family Court system.

This is at odds with the Government’s stance that the Family Courts performance has not altered since the 2012 Act came in.  This Act decimated the future public funding of family cases.  As a practitioner, I have seen a massive fall in the number of clients who now qualify for legal aid.  These are often vulnerable members of society who can not contemplate dealing with the case themselves.  The Government said that this was covered by “Exceptional case” funding.  Figures from the Legal Aid Agency tell a different story. Less than 2% have been
granted.  In family cases, 617 were applied for and 8 granted – 1.29%.

As a family solicitor and a family mediator, I spend time with people going through a very traumatic time in their lives.  They need the support and advice of someone who is able to help guide them through difficult proceedings.  A lot of clients I have seen since April 2012 haven’t been able to afford fees, but have borrowed rather than facing it alone.  They want someone to be able to give them dispassionate legal advice and guidance.  Myself and most of my colleagues want to help clients avoid court rather than face it, and we give advice about the options available, without involving the Courts.

The Judicial Executive’s Board found that the Judicial perception is that cases where lawyers were not involved are not settling when they should, and these are now taking up valuable court time.

The new changes brought about by the Children and Families Act 2014 makes forms easier to complete, but it doesn’t get rid of the need for good quality sensible advice.

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