New Government court support a ‘sticking plaster' for a wounded family justice system, says Resolution

23 Oct 2014

Family law organisation Resolution believes that today’s announcement by Government for court support for litigants in person will help some people who have already reached the stage of litigation, but will not address the wider issues stemming from the loss of legal aid.

Resolution Vice-Chair Nigel Shepherd says: “These organisations do some great work and I am sure that this measure will help some self-represented litigants who have already reached the courts. However, I fear that this initiative is more about supporting the courts, rather than the families trying to navigate them.

“The problems stemming from the loss of most family legal aid reach far beyond the courtrooms. It’s a sticking plaster for a family justice system left seriously wounded by cuts to legal aid. Separating families need more comprehensive support than assistance in the courts, which should be the final resort for the majority of people.

“It seems strange to me that this Government has vowed to help people resolve their family disputes out of court, but today’s announcement is only going to help people who end up there. The notion that the first thing you do when you decide to separate is walk into a court building is at best misguided.

“We know that solicitor negotiation and referrals to mediation and other forms of out of court dispute resolution are hugely successful in helping many people to resolve their differences more effectively, and with a minimum of conflict. Surely this is where the Government should be focusing resource, if it is truly committed to helping people find fair, appropriate and lasting outcomes for them and their families.

“What people need is access to professional legal advice early in their separation and during the process, to talk through their options, signpost to support services and find the right way forward for them. This is what Resolution members do day in, day out, and it can often help people avoid the courts and, more importantly, minimise the conflict and the impact on their children.

“The signposting to other appropriate services and help for separating couples is what our pilot Family Matters scheme - funded by the DWP – does for people no longer eligible for legal aid, and it is seeing great results. We’d like to see more resources dedicated to providing initial advice about how to manage your separation, and help people avoid going to court in the first place.”