We use cookies to collect and analyse information on site performance and usage to improve and customise your experience, where applicable. View our Cookies Policy. Click Accept and continue to use our website or Manage to review and update your preferences.

Tripling of family law cases with unrepresented parties

26 Apr 2024 / britain Print

Tripling of family-law cases with unrepresented parties

The Law Society of England and Wales has said that rising numbers of litigants in person, combined with backlogs, delays, and chronic lack of investment, are adding pressure to the family-justice system.

New figures show that, in private family-law cases, the areas worst hit are:

  • Central London – 2,691 cases without legal representation,
  • East London – 2,313 cases, 
  • Essex and Suffolk – 2,051 cases, 
  • Manchester – 1,658 cases. 

Law Society of England and Wales president Nick Emmerson said: “Private family-law cases where both parties are unrepresented have almost trebled since the government brought in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), which cut large areas from legal aid overnight.

"Removing legal advice led to many more people going straight to court instead of seeking to resolve their cases through mediation.

“As the figures show, thousands of people are being forced to take on their case on their own, as they have no access to free legal advice. Means-test eligibility has not been uprated for years, meaning people on lower incomes and, sometimes, those living in poverty, are unable to access justice.

“It is extremely concerning to see the rise in the number of people representing themselves in these kinds of cases,” he said.

High stakes

“Family-law cases are high stakes by their very nature. Cases deal with children being placed into care, domestic-abuse victims or children finding out who they will live with as their parents’ divorce,” he said.

Emmerson added that the rise in litigants-in-person is creating further pressure on a system already in crisis.

Court desks for face-to-face engagement are closing, removing essential visible access points for court users, he added.

“Meanwhile, the family-court system is facing rising backlogs and delays. Data from the Ministry of Justice shows that more than 100,000 children were trapped in the backlogs in 2023, leaving children without the stability they need to thrive.

The Law Society of England and Wales is calling for:

  • Increased civil legal-aid fees, and
  • Increased fees for the Qualified Legal Representative (QLR) scheme – which was brought in to safeguard victims from being cross-examined by their alleged perpetrator – so more solicitors can take part.

Nick Emmerson concluded: “We hope that these findings will encourage the government to ensure its Civil Legal Aid Review examines the effect decades of underinvestment is having on the family-justice system and why so many people are representing themselves.”

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland