The Law Society of England and Wales has highlighted that the currently delays and subsequent backlogs within the family justice system, are here to stay unless or until “legal funding is restored for early legal advice”.
These delays are having a significant impact on thousands of children and families. In 2019, the government stated that the removal of private family law from the scope of legal aid was “the most significant factor” in the decline in mediation for the decade.
“The loss of the primary referral routes to mediation is the most significant factor in the post-LASPO decline in MIAM [Mediation Information Assessment Meeting] uptake. Prior to LASPO, the majority of referrals to mediation were made by legal aid funded solicitors. The removal of private family law from the scope of legal aid removed the opportunity to refer cases towards mediation.”
The Law Society believe that the “government’s ambition of encouraging mediation has been fundamentally undermined by its own decision to cut funding for early legal advice for family matters”.
There have been 19,000 fewer mediation assessments in the last decade, and 6,000 fewer case starts and 4,700 fewer successful agreements.
Nick Emmerson, The Law Society of England and Wales president, said:
“If the government is serious about tackling the backlogs and delays in the family courts, they must reinstate legal aid funding for early advice.
It is the key to the government’s push to encouraging separating couples to mediate, many of whom will otherwise have to navigate the system without representation*, adding further delay and distress.
Without action we will continue to see thousands of couples and their children unnecessarily caught up in the legal system and unable to move on with their lives.”
*Since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) was introduced, there has been a huge rise in the number of people representing themselves in private family law cases. The proportion of private family law cases where both parties are represented fell from 45% in 2012 to just 19% in 2022, while the proportion of cases where neither party was represented increased from 13% to 39% over the same period. MoJ, Family Court Statistics: April to June 2023, Table 10