Strong concerns are being raised that the family courts system is at a ‘breaking point’ owing to the delays now caused in proceedings due to unrepresented parties. The concern was quoted by the family lawyers body Resolution.
With a fear of two-tier justice system, a solicitor, Jo Edwards, who has been recently appointed as the chair of Resolution has said that the wide spread emergence of private arbitrators has forced clients to avoid court proceedings because of delay and inefficiency due to overcrowding and the backlog of court work opting for private arbitration hearings.
This privatization of litigation proceedings is the direct effect of the cuts to legal aid, that are now visibly depriving families from seeking child custodies to attempting to settle divorce cases and family asset partitions and more, she asserts.
This deprivation has led to considerable delays as in many cases as judges have to develop the unrepresented side’s claims, by themselves.
“People who represent themselves are not negotiating. They need a lot of time and help. The judges are having to draft orders which is normally done by the parties. I have heard of cases being listed eight months in advance“, said Edwards.
In response to the concerns cited by various solicitors, Justice Minister, Simon Hughes has come up with an explanation, “There have always been a significant number of people representing themselves in court — they did in around half of all private law cases in 2012 – and we provide information and guidance to help them. Judges have expertise in supporting them, for example by explaining procedures and what is expected.”
“We are committed to making sure that more people make use of mediation rather than go through the confrontational and stressful experience of going to court. Millions of pounds of legal aid remains available for family mediation and for legal advice to support family mediation.”
“We are closely monitoring the impact of the legal aid changes and will continue to do so. Court performance is being maintained with the average time taken to complete cases remaining steady since April 2013.”, he further added.
Whether this has a tangible success in achieving justice in family cases and other areas of law where public funding has been considerably reduced remains to be seen.