Ministry of Justice initiative will offer free support in family and civil law cases

Published: 3rd November 2014

A new £1.4m a year initiative funded by the Ministry of Justice will provide legal support and advice to people who represent themselves in family and civil law cases, with the launch of a network of court-based advice centres throughout England and Wales.

The new initiative will include a 'supporting separating parents in disputes' helpline, which is to be managed by Cafcass (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) as well as supporting the current efforts of the 'Personal Support Unit', a network of volunteers who provide help to people without legal representation in the civil courts.

The Personal Support Unit already operates in eight courts across England and Wales, but with the support of this new government initiative, they hope to expand the number of volunteers in the courts and attract a wider range of advisors, including law students, graduates and retired professionals.

The number of people representing themselves in court - also referred to as 'litigants in person' - has risen ever since the removal of legal aid from family law cases, as many regular families cannot afford representation, without the financial help that legal aid provided.

Private family law cases where both parties were represented by a solicitor has fallen by almost 40% from April to June this year, compared with last year. The removal of legal aid has had a huge impact and could affect as many as 650,000 people in England and Wales.

This is causing problems not only for the government, but to whole family justice system. In a previous blog post from last month, we reported that divorce cases are taking much longer to complete for those who don't use legal representation, which is creating a backlog of cases in the family courts. The majority of litigants in person don't have the knowledge or expertise to navigate their way through complex legal proceedings or the experience in preparing the necessary documentation or evidence required by their case.

The government have also tried to encourage the use of family mediation to try and cut down the number of parties taking their disputes to court. In April this year, the Children and Families Act saw an amendment which meant that family mediation is now compulsory for separating couples before they can apply for a court order.

Justice Minister Simon Hughes told the Guardian newspaper, "There are a lot of people going to court who don’t feel supported enough and feel in need of legal help. There’s unlikely to be money coming back into legal aid in the near future."

"But people in the legal profession said they thought they could put together a package that would give support to litigants in person. We have managed to liberate money from a difficult economic situation."

"This will cover the whole country. It’s the best value for money and where the profession thought it would be most helpful. I believe it will be the most significant difference we can make in support for litigants."

If your relationship is on the verge of a breakdown and you are considering separation or divorce then K J Smith Solicitors can help. We have a team of experienced family solicitors and trained mediators who will work with you to deliver practical and positive outcomes. For more information or to arrange your free consultation, please call us today on 01491 630000 (Henley-on-Thames), 020 7070 0330 (Central London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor) or 01256 584000 (Basingstoke).

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