Cuts to legal aid force more people to represent themselves

Family courts under pressure as an increasing number of litigants in divorce and child custody cases attend without a lawyer

Nearly half of people going to family courts to resolve matters involving their children are having to represent themselves, new figures reveal.

Figures obtained by a Freedom of Information (FoI) request suggest a rise in the number of people attending family courts without a lawyer of around 30 per cent following dramatic cuts to the legal aid budget.

In an attempt to save £350m a year, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) changed the rules from April last year so that some types of cases, including divorce and child-custody proceedings, are no longer eligible for public funding.

The legal profession held its second court walkout on Friday over the reduction in legal aid payments and proposals for further cuts affecting family, criminal and other cases.

The MoJ statistics showed that 21,574 people – 45 per cent – going to court over child-related issues were not represented by a lawyer in the six months from April to September last year. This compared with 33,294 (37 per cent) for the previous 12 months. If this trend continues over the rest of 2013/14, it would mean there had been a 30 per cent rise.

The figures relate mainly to cases over parental responsibility, contact with children and where the children should live, but also other issues such as guardianship.

Fiona Kendall, a partner at divorce solicitors Jones Myers, said that people with no legal knowledge were being forced to represent themselves in court. "Some of these people can't afford legal services," she said, adding that this was leading to "difficulties", such as delays in court.

"Someone who isn't properly represented needs additional help and the trouble is that there just isn't the court time for it… we don't think that [the Government understands] the pressure this has built up on court times, these are areas which are difficult to define on a balance sheet."

Before last year's policy change, the MoJ set aside an extra £10m for publicly funded family mediation proceedings. But between April and November 2013, the number of such mediations fell by 36 per cent, against the same period in 2012.

Marc Lopatin, founder of LawyerSupportedMediation.com, who submitted the FoI request, said the MoJ should have helped solicitors and mediators work together to bring down the cost of cases.

"Instead, Ministry of Justice policy has driven a wedge between the very professionals that could be reducing the pressure on the courts. It's surely time for an urgent rethink," he said.

And Jusleen Arora, of Castle Park Solicitors in Leicester, said: "Mediation has dropped because solicitors aren't referring clients, people aren't going to solicitors because they can't afford to as legal aid's not available, which [means] more court cases."

The MoJ said it was "closely monitoring the impact of the legal-aid changes". A Justice Ministry spokesman said: "There have always been a significant number of people representing themselves in court … and we provide information and guidance to help them. Judges also have expertise in supporting them, for example by explaining procedures and what is expected."

People represented themselves in about half of private law cases, which include family, property, trade, labour and other issues, in 2012.

The spokesman said that the average time taken to complete cases had remained "steady since April 2013" and stressed the Government's support for mediation. "We are committed to making sure that more people make use of it rather than go through the confrontational and stressful experience of going to court," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe