Parents are choosing to go to court to settle private child matters rather than using mediation, a new report suggests.
The new figures have been released after lawyersupportedmediation.com made a Freedom of Information request.
The data gave an insight into the utilisation of court services since the legal aid cuts in family law were introduced in April 2013.
It was hoped that publicly funded mediation brought in by the Ministry of Justice would be used by more families, thereby reducing the burden on the family court system. However, it seems that more families are choosing to go to court without legal representation than using mediation provided by the MoJ.
The information released showed:
- Between April and September 2013, 21,574 parties represented themselves at court for child related proceedings (parental responsibility, contact, residence, etc). The figure for the previous 12-months (2012/13) stood at 33,294.
- So within six months of the changes to public funding, the total number of unrepresented parties already accounts for two-thirds (65%) of the previous year’s total.
- Between April and September 2013, almost half (45%) of all parties involved with private family law child proceedings, were unrepresented. This is up from 37% for the last completed year (2012/13).
- Between April and September 2013, the number of applications rose by 10% to 29,243, compared to 26,252 applications for the same period in 2012.
Critics of the recent legal aid cuts have voiced concerns that the withdrawal of funding for family cases will result in more people going to court without legal representation as ‘litigants in person’.
Litigants in person can cause delays and increase costs due to their unfamiliarity with the system and practises of the court. There is a risk that litigants in person will not get the best access to justice from the courts, especially if the other party is legally represented.
Plans are in place to introduce laws that will make it compulsory for all Applicants to meet with a mediator before they are allowed to issue court proceedings. It remains to be seen if compelling people to use mediation will result in fewer cases being fought in the courts.