There has been a lot of media hype and genuine concern from professionals involved in the family sector and from couples facing family breakdown about the forthcoming legal aid cuts in April 2013.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the cuts, as of 1st April 2013 there will effectively be no legal aid for family matters on separation/divorce and related issues about property & finance and children’s arrangements unless there has been recent, proven domestic violence and/or there are significant child welfare/public child protection concerns.
Whilst I’m a great supporter of dispute resolution out of Court, sadly it will not be suitable for every case and there will be many instances when the separating couple will have no choice but to sort out their differences through the Court system. As a result, unintentionally, the system will as of April 2013, be geared up in favour of those who can afford the services of a solicitor. Those that cannot, will be left to fend for themselves and will be at huge disadvantage, acting as a self represented person without the benefit of legal advice, assistance and representation.
Yes, there is talk of a family law hub, to be set up by the Government to help litigants who will be representing themselves but this will be of little use to those who do not have access to the internet and to people who cannot understand the information because they are less able either through a physical or learning difficulty. Or maybe, the person is just not emotionally/psychologically fit enough to conduct their own case . Litigation can be a daunting prospect for an expert family solicitor in complex family cases, let alone the client attempting to represent him or herself in Court.
As opposed to helping free up Court/Judiciary time, which is the intended desire of the Family Justice Review, the legal aid cuts will have a damming impact upon the Courts by clogging them with self representing litigants who will need more time and energy spent on them by the Judiciary to make sure that Justice is seen to be done and is done.
The sole reason for these legal aid cuts was to save the public purse £350 million from the legal aid budget. In spite of criticism from the President of the Family Division, Head of Family Justice, Sir Nicholas Wall ( in December 2011) the legal aid cuts have been endorsed by the Government. Unless there is a much needed U-turn, the legal aid cuts will come into effect in just over 4 months time.
In my humble opinion, I think that the Government has been short-sighted in its decision-making process. The Family Courts and Judiciary are already over stretched in dealing with the existing family caseload, where the parties continue to have the benefit of family legal aid and the support of their expert solicitors – I dread to think of the chaos and injustice that will be caused as of April 2013 when the damming family legal aid cuts come into effect.
- Plans to cut civil case legal aid (bbc.co.uk)
- Insuring against divorce could follow legal reforms (confused.com)