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
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
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: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower