Family lawyers have warned that the court system is in danger of collapse after revealing that changes to legal aid that took effect in April this year have resulted in more people representing themselves, clogging up an already overworked system, reports The Daily Telegraph.
New figures released this week have shown that the number of children caught up in custody battles between divorcing parents has rocketed up 27% in the past month and is almost double the number seen two years ago.
The agency responsible for securing the best interests of children involved in family law disputes is Cafcass. It has disclosed that it received more than 5,000 new cases in May, a record number since it was set up in 2001.
The news comes after sweeping changes were made to the legal-aid system back at the beginning of April this year, when support was removed for almost all family law cases save a small number involving domestic violence.
The changes have resulted in more and more parents deciding to ‘go it alone’ in their separation and divorce disputes, representing themselves to save money on legal fees.
However, the result is that Cafcass is being asked to intervene in a record number of ‘private law’ cases, as people decide to ditch family lawyers in favour of going it alone.
The Government’s much vaunted moves to encourage cases away from the courts and into the hands of family mediation services also seems to be failing, as those who represent themselves are unaware of the option of family mediation because they would have traditionally been referred by their solicitor.
It is thought that ‘private law’ cases take up more court time, because individuals are unfamiliar with the process. Senior lawyers have warned that the combination effect of the consequences of legal-aid reform threatens to bring the whole system to its knees.
“Previously, individuals with legal representation might have attempted to negotiate a resolution,” Vicki Lynn of law firm Pannone told The Telegraph.
“However, the withdrawal of public funding for most types of cases has meant court potentially now being the first and only option considered by those now having to represent themselves,” she added.
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