The majority of family law cases feature at least one litigant in person, newly released figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have revealed.
People who initiate family law proceedings are the most likely to have legal representation, according to official figures. Applicants were the only represented parties in 36 per cent of family law cases between January and March of this year. By contrast, just 11 per cent of cases had the respondent as the solely represented party.
In 30 per cent of cases within the same timeframe, none of the parties had a lawyer, whereas only 24 per cent had both parties represented. Prior to the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) in 2012, both parties had a law professional to argue for their interests in 40 per cent of all hearings.
This dropped dramatically after LASPO eliminated almost all legal aid for family law cases. Without financial assistance, many people could no longer afford a lawyer when they were involved in a family law dispute. These can include going through a divorce, or dealing with an adoption.
However, these numbers began to level out in 2014. For the last three quarters, the number of cases with nobody represented hovered around 24 per cent.
According to the MoJ figures, disputes are resolved faster when nobody has representation or only the applicant does. During the first three months of the year, the average duration of divorce proceedings when both spouses had a lawyer was over 26 weeks. Conversely, such cases took an average of only 19 weeks when neither party had one.