More than two thirds of the parties involved in family court cases are now unrepresented, magistrates report.
In an analysis of recent family disputes heard in members’ courts by the Magistrates Association, 68 per cent of the participants were identified as unrepresented litigants in person: an increase of no less than 27 per cent in just three years. A decisive 95 per cent agreed with the suggestion that more litigants in person led to a less efficient court system.
The analysis was carried out for BuzzFeed News and involved 370 members of the Association. Speaking anonymously, various magistrates expressed their frustrations with the situation. Situations in which one partner was represented and other wasn’t almost always resulted in better outcomes for the former, they insisted.
“Relationship with children should not be affected by ability to pay.”
The sheer numbers clog the courts and disadvantaged children, said another.
“Litigants in person find it difficult and frightening and while we are very willing to help, it does slow the day’s work considerably and ultimately in family court the children suffer again.”
A third observed that the resulting delays could end up costing more than was saved by slashing legal aid eligibility.
“I fail to see how removing legal aid from private law family proceedings is saving any money at all, given the number of extra hearings and additional time spent in court. The situation is becoming a joke.”
Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Magistrates Association Chair John Bache said:
“The problem is that if one side is represented by a professional lawyer and the other isn’t represented, that must be intrinsically unfair.”
“The impact on children will stem from that because if there hasn’t been proper representation, the children won’t be achieving necessarily the best outcome in terms of relationship with their parents.”
Read Buzzfeed’s report in full here.
Image by Matt Brown via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence