Court reform call on legal aid plan14th July 2011
Changes to the legal aid system are likely to see more people representing themselves in court, MPs have said.
The Commons Justice Select Committee was responding to plans by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke to cut legal assistance for most private cases of family law, clinical negligence, employment and immigration law, and some debt and housing issues.
The committee warned that is is “inevitable” that, for example, parents will not give up residence or maintenance cases regarding their children just because they are refused public funding, so they are likely to instead take the case on themselves.
It said the Ministry of Justice “does not appear to have appreciated that this is the inevitable outcome of the legal aid reforms”, and changes will be required.
Committee chairman Sir Alan Beith said although many family disputes are better served through the mediation process, some will still end up before a judge and “courts are going to have to make adjustments to cope with more people representing themselves in what are often emotionally charged cases”.
Ian Davies, Solicitor in IBB’s Private Client Team, comments: “To some extent the courts have already sought to steal a march on the forthcoming Government cuts, by seeking to impose the requirement to mediate upon divorcing couples. As part of the Family Proceedings Rules reforms which came into effect in April of this year, parties are required to complete a form before their application to court to commence financial proceedings.Though whether this works remains to be seen.
“The old adage of ‘you can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink’ is especially true here. Within the Children’s arena, it is likely that there will be greater emphasis placed upon the role of the CAFCASS (Court Welfare) personnel to try and mediate the differences between the ‘warring’ parents. Ironically however, these departments are also Government funded, so will also be affected by the cuts.
“Quite simply the continued cull on Government spending on legal aid, places an unbearable limit on a court system which is already bursting at the seams and is at a polar opposite to the Access to Justice laws which exist.”