Changes to Legal Aid lead to court delays

According to research carried out by the law firm Hugh James, the divorce courts are being hit by delays because divorcing couples are increasingly choosing to represent themselves.

Hugh James has analysed recent court records with figures appearing to show that the average divorce case is taking three weeks longer to resolve than it would have done under twelve months ago.

These delays follow a rise in the number of people representing themselves without a lawyer after the removal last year of legal aid for the majority of family law cases. The study carried out by Hugh James has calculated that a dissolution finalised during the first quarter of 2014 took, on average, six months or 23.9 weeks, to be processed from the first application through to the granting of the decree nisi.

This represents an increase of 10 per cent on the average case in the previous three month quarter and 15 per cent longer in comparison to the second quarter of 2013 when a typical divorce took 20.8 weeks to finalise.

Cases brought by litigants themselves took an average of 32.6 weeks during the first quarter of 2014 which is more than a third longer than the average.

Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, acknowledged, whilst speaking to MPs last year that the growing number of litigants choosing to represent themselves was putting further strain on the family courts.

An Associate at Hugh James, Charlotte Leyshon, said: “The slowdown in family law cases is impacting on everyone, not just those litigants who have been impacted by the withdrawal of legal aid.

Judges, solicitors and our clients are growing increasingly frustrated by the length of time cases are taking.

Going through a divorce is highly stressful and the delays that we’re seeing at the moment don’t help anyone.

More people are trying to represent themselves in court but they lack the experience and technical knowledge of lawyers. Inevitably they will make mistakes in filling out forms properly or preparing evidence and it’s this lack of experience, as well as a cut in resources available that is leading to delays.”

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