Government cuts across all sectors have been biting for a number of years now, but the cuts in the legal budget have taken time to be fully realised and the impact on the family courts are hitting some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
The knock on effect of the changes in legal aid mean that in 42 per cent of cases now coming to the family court neither party have a solicitor, compared with just 12 per cent before the legal aid cuts. People without legal representation are known as Litigants in Person, or LIPs and a lack of legal advice can have a negative effect both on the court system and on the people involved.
A lack of representation brings a number of issues. The first is on the parents who are struggling to manage the access arrangements for their children. Without legal advice and representation, they will certainly find it difficult to know what processes need to be followed and they will also not have the experience to be able to argue their case effectively in court.
When taking a custody case to court, there are a number of tests which could be utilised if there are allegations of alcohol or drug abuse, such as hair follicle sampling, but tests like these are proving too expensive for the normal person on the street and this is affecting the outcome of some cases.
Victims of domestic abuse are sometimes having to face their abuser in court now because in order to qualify for legal aid – thus to be represented and supported, they have to have a doctor’s letter, which can cost up to £75 and some cannot afford this cost.
The knock on effect of litigants in person in the courts are that judges are having to guide them and use lots of discretion during the case, which would not be necessary with a lawyer present. Therefore cases are taking longer to resolve in an already backed up court system and some private custody hearings are now taking 6 months or longer to be resolved.
Whilst no one can deny that savings need to be made, should these cuts really have to affect the most vulnerable in our society?
This information provided in this article is not intended to constitute legal advice and each relationship breakdown requires careful consideration in our view by a fully qualified Solicitor before decisions are made and before you embark on a certain course of action.
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