Family Justice Review: vital reforms at risk from legal aid cuts

News Release

03 Feb 2012

On Monday 6th February, the Government published its response to the Family Justice Review.

Liz Edwards, vice-chair of Resolution, comments:

“The Family Justice Review represents the biggest overhaul of the family legal system for many years and we are pleased that the Government has endorsed most of its recommendations.

David Norgrove’s aims are admirable, and they have the potential to change the family justice system for the better. However, these attempts to improve the system will be severely hampered by the cuts to the legal aid system and the Court Service. Despite the review’s best efforts, we could well end up with a much slower, more fractured system than the one we currently have.

“We have always agreed with the need to place children’s welfare at the centre of both public and private law proceedings, and as an association committed to the constructive resolution of family problems, we welcome any moves to make family law less combative. We are therefore encouraged by the Government’s commitment to alternatives to the courts, such as mediation.

However, it is important to remember that mediation is not suitable for all cases, nor is it the only alternative to litigation, and more families could benefit from practices such as collaborative law, if they were funded in the same way. They could also benefit from the provision of further information, which people often only get if they see a family lawyer – and many mediators say that they are often assisted by lawyers to make this information available.

“We are also concerned that the additional £10m funding for mediation is not new money, but has previously been announced as part of the Legal Aid Bill.

Our members see day in day out the problems separated parents can have in agreeing appropriate contact arrangements, and it is important to acknowledge that, usually, it is in the children's best interest to have a relationship with both parents. As the Government has recognised, the experience of other countries has shown that guaranteeing 'shared parenting' in law places the demands of adults over the needs of children, and we will be engaging with the ministerial working group to ensure that any legislative statement on this issue continues to safeguard children’s welfare.”