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Family Courts feeling the strain...

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Much has been made of the plans to launch a National Crime Agency through the Crime and Courts Bill currently going through Parliament. The creation of a single family court is also a part of this Bill however, and could have just as great an impact, albeit unintentionally.

There is already an expected increase in the number of litigants in person - that is, members of the public who choose to represent themselves during the legal process rather than use a legal professional - due to the recent removal of legal aid for family law cases.

The family law sector has speculated greatly on how this withdrawal of legal aid (with effect from the first of this month ) will impact throughout - and its effect is expected to be felt in the courts as well as in private law practices in England and Wales. Not only will many law firms who undertake legal aid work find themselves with potentially much less work and fewer clients, it is expected that the court system will find itself inundated with people unable to afford representation who decide to go it alone.

This is an issue we have mentioned in earlier blogs here at Vines, and only time will tell how this situation will pan out. However, with more individuals going through a process of which they are at best unsure and at worst totally ignorant, this will certainly slow down the divorce process while due process is explained to all parties.

There are also plans afoot for HM Courts & Tribunal Service (HMCTS) to create a single London family court within the building which houses the Principal Registry of the Family Division - thus reducing the number of family courts from 32 to 25, and the number of district judges at the principal registry from 20 to 12. Whilst these plans have not been finalised, the combination of these reductions along with the legal aid changes is seen as increasing the strain on the family courts system.

This topic has been widely debated in the media, and in one publication was described as a 'perfect storm' for family courts. The current financial climate is no doubt coming to bear on the situation too. All in all, a challenging time for family law and its practitioners.

By Claire Clark on 9 Apr 2013, 15:54 PM

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