October 24, 2014

Why pledge to advise couples without legal support creates confusion

The confusion in our family courts shows no sign of abating with the news that Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes has pledged to invest £1.4m in advice centres for people representing themselves.

The announcement comes as the government’s own figures reveal that 60% of parents are now without a lawyer when they go to court to contest arrangements for their children.

Statistics from the Ministry of Justice also show that the number of litigants in person contesting financial matters rose to over 30% for the first time.

It pains me to say “we told you so”, however as regular readers of our blog will know, we predicted that the demise of legal aid for most family matters would propel more people into DIY divorces with far reaching consequences for the wellbeing of both parents and children.

The government’s £1.4m investment in increasing advice at eight Personal Support Units in England and Wales is akin to putting a sticking plaster over a broken limb.

Couples need expert legal advice before they attend court, not when they are turn up on the day for their hearing.

Other elements of the initiative include increasing online advice for separating couples, using law graduates and retired volunteers to provide extra advice, and directing people to lawyers giving pro bono (free) support and even legal representation.

We would agree with the Law Society’s comments on the measures below:

“Legal aid cuts have forced more and more people into “do it yourself” justice, where they find themselves in strange surroundings, dealing with unfamiliar procedures while trying to sort out the future of their children, family home and finances.

“A support strategy is not the solution for the many vulnerable people who need early, expert legal advice. Pro bono advice can never be a substitute for a properly funded legal aid system.”

The government says it is committed to helping divorcing couples resolve their issues outside court, yet this latest ‘knee jerk’ measure is directed at those who find themselves in that very place.

It is perhaps worth reflecting that no one would expect you to remove your own appendix; why therefore does government think that everyone can be their own (objective) lawyer? So often it is that good advice early on which can resolve matters – saving financial and emotional cost and court time. I doubt if government will listen.

Perhaps we should all buy the DIY book on surgery….just in case.

Do you have experience or views on going to family courts without a lawyer? Do you think this new service will help?

If you have any questions about separation or divorce please call us on 0113 246 0055, leave us a comment below or drop us an e-mail.