Lack of legal aid caused ‘unfair’ divorce settlement

Divorce|January 29th 2016

An Iranian woman without legal aid has received an unfair divorce settlement, the High Court has ruled.

Mr Justice Holman allowed the 48 year-old to appeal a ruling made by a deputy district judge which had awarded her only a 25 per cent share of a flat in Tehran.

Despite his assessment of the original judge’s decision, Mr Justice Holman stressed that he meant “no criticism of her at all”. She had been faced with a case involving two litigants in person, something which has become very common since “the almost wholesale abolition of legal aid” in family law cases he noted, adding that given the “difficult circumstances the deputy district judge clearly did her best”.

Both parties were born and raised in Iran, but the husband moved to England in 1991 and the wife joined him in late 2000, shortly after they met for the first time. They married at a London registry office in 2001 and have lived here ever since. However, the wife had “difficulties” understanding English. Despite these issues with the language, the wife did not have an interpreter during the original hearings. The result was that many of her answers were “garbled” and it was “not at all clear … that she fully understood every line of questions”.

Following the initial ruling, the wife sought an appeal in the High Court, claiming that she had experienced “procedural unfairness” thanks to the absence of an interpreter.

Mr Justice Holman concluded that due to the wife’s linguistic issues, as well as her lack of legal representation, the deputy district judge’s decision was “objectively unfair”. Therefore he ordered the case to be reheard.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice claimed that the British legal aid system was “still one of the most generous in the world” and that the government was increasing the support available for litigants in person.

Read the full judgment here.

Photo of the Royal Courts of Justice by Scott Denny via Flickr

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