Legal aid cut for family courts

Date posted08/09/2014

Children are being damaged by the rising number of estranged couples representing themselves in family court battles, a former judge has claimed.

Following cuts to legal aid the number of people representing themselves in Wales nearly doubled in a year from 2,574 in 2012/13 to 4,920 in 2013/14.

Crispin Masterman said cases took longer to settle without solicitors.

The Ministry of Justice said it recommended mediation as "quicker, cheaper and less stressful" than court.

Family courts are private hearings dealing with financial issues, residence, and access for separated parents to their children, in front of a judge or magistrates.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 effectively removed legal aid for the majority of private family law cases when it came into effect in April 2013.

Judges, magistrates and lawyers have all criticised the new legislation, which they claim prevents vulnerable people from accessing justice, and slows up the family court system to the detriment of the children involved.

Only people who are proven victims of domestic violence, or those challenging care orders being imposed by local authorities through public law proceedings, remain eligible for legal aid.

More than half of all parties in the family courts were unrepresented by a solicitor, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice.

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