Low-income parents continue to bear the brunt of legal aid cuts to family law services, following the release of the latest figures by the Ministry of Justice.
In its quarterly release of court statistics, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) revealed that the number cases featuring ex-partners going to court over child arrangements or finances fell to 9,291 between April and June 2014. This is a drop of 40% compared to the same period in 2013.
While fewer parents going to court might seem a cause for celebration, the major drop in litigation is a direct consequence of public funding being removed from legal aid family solicitors and barristers in April 2013.
The Law Society and groups representing family lawyers have previously warned this is a worrying precedent as parents could take the law into their own hands over child arrangements or be agreeing lopsided kitchen table deals over finances where one partner risks being sold short.
Moreover, the drop in court cases is not being mirrored by a rise in the number of people attending family mediation. Analysis of Legal Aid Agency data – also published today – by Lawyer-Supported Mediation, a group that combines fixed fee legal advice with family mediation, showed that the 1778 publicly funded mediations that got underway between April and June this year represented a fall over 50%, compared to the same period in 2012 when legal aid was still in place for referring solicitors.
Marc Lopatin, trained mediator and founder of Lawyer-Supported Mediation, said: “Low-income families are falling off the radar in their droves. It is absolutely wrong for Ministers at the MoJ to assume these parents are happily sorting out matters for themselves. Family law services have always been out of reach for the many and cuts to legal aid are taking this to a new level.
“If the MoJ wants to divert people from the courts to mediation, they urgently need to incentivise legal aid lawyers to support the process. This is an astonishing failure of policy given not one lawyer in the UK claimed funds from the MoJ to provide freely available legal advice in support of mediation.”
For more information:
Contact Marc Lopatin, Founder Lawyer Supported Mediation on 033 0223 1188