Those working in family law can see on a daily basis that all is not well in the legal world.
Monday sees the launch of Justice Week, a way of ensuring those problems are highlighted to a much wider audience.
Justice Week is a new initiative setup by the three legal professional bodies. The Law Society, the Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) argue that many parts of the system are at breaking point. And now is the time to make a strong case for why they are fundamental to society.
It’s more than five years since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) came in to force. It brought wholesale changes to the legal aid system for family law.
It removed that vital financial assistance for so many people. Now, to end a marriage and sort out financial and familial affairs, most must be prepared to pay. The alternative is to represent themselves.
2017 figures show the proportion of family law cases before the courts in England & Wales where neither party had legal representation was 36%, up by 19% in just four years.
In an unusual move this month, a leading family judge spoke out highlighting the difficulties faced by these ‘litigants in person’ because of legal aid cuts.
His Honour Judge Stephen Wildblood QC, the most senior family court judge at Bristol Civil Justice Centre told the BBC.
“If anyone watching this can imagine themselves in court faced with somebody that they once loved on the other side of the court, supported by a barrister, and they are on their own, then I think the point answers itself. It is very difficult indeed for them.”
Problems are not confined to family law. The chronicling of issues felt at our criminal courts have been turned into a best-seller by The Secret Barrister.
Only by getting the effects of what’s happening out to this wider audience is there hope of change.
Until this issue becomes widely recognised by society as whole it can be minimised as simply the legal profession moaning about its lot.
Campaigners want to at least restore funding for early legal advice. The Ministry of Justice is due to publish its review of LASPO by the end of the year.
Justice Week runs until Friday November 2. We’ll be taking part to highlight the issues and be part of a much-needed conversation about solutions.
We’ve previously written about the changes to legal aid – ‘The erosions to this system have been gradual but ultimately seismic.’