Many people are aware that the impact of recent legal-aid cuts has been a significant increase in the number of self-representing parties, however figures obtained from the Ministry of Justice recently have provided better insight into the true extent of the problem.
Slater and Gordon's Lawyer Supported Mediation group obtained the figures as part of their consideration of how recent changes are impacting upon the way children cases are being prepared and run. The figures demonstrated that more than 60% more mothers represented themselves in Court in matters concerning their children than did so in 2012, meaning that for the first time, those appearing with a family solicitor or barrister were in the minority.
The significant increase is not solely attributable to the most recent legal aid restrictions, which many expect will mean a still greater increase in those preparing cases themselves.
A number of new measures have been introduced to try and assist the Courts dealing with litigants in person and to assist the parties themselves in running their cases, with things such as plain English guides to procedure and detailed precedent orders. Whilst these new measures are undoubtedly of assistance, they do not help parties to understand their legal position, or help them know how to put their case to the Court.
Some matters can be dealt with in a relatively straightforward manner, however I have seen numerous people who have got into a very difficult situation as a result of running a case without any legal guidance. It is important to remember that the 2 are not mutually exclusive, and that sometimes an hour of advice ‘here and there’ at certain key stages of the proceedings can be money well spent, whilst keeping overall fees to a minimum. Many clients assume, wrongly, that their choice is all or nothing, but in reality many family lawyers are happy to cater for a specific client’s needs and budget – whatever they may be.
Whether some advice is sought or not, anyone trying to prepare their own case in whole or in part is advised to research the law as thoroughly as possible and also make sure that any resources they use are accurate and reputable. As we have explained on this blog on many an occasion, the internet has many myths and minefields about family law, which it is vital to avoid. A lot of information is also based on the law in other countries, such as America, and the provisions of children law (and indeed any divorce or family law) can be very different. Whilst it may be tempting to use anything which appears to be of assistance, using incorrect information can do more harm than good, so always check sources carefully.
It is also important to note that litigation is a last resort, as other methods are available to settle disputes, including family mediation, lawyer supported mediation and collaborative law.
Cara Nuttall is a Family & Divorce Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.
For information on ‘pay as you go’ legal assistance, fixed fee services, or mediation and collaborative law, feel free to contact our family law team on freephone 0800 916 9055 or contact us online. Our contact centre in Manchester is open 24 hours 7 days a week. We offer a free initial 30 minute consultation with a Family Lawyer.