This website uses cookies

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. By using our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy

Lexis+ AI

Family courts struggle as litigants represent themselves

Family courts struggle as litigants represent themselves


A brewing crisis looms over the family justice system in the UK, driven by a surge in litigants representing themselves coupled with mounting backlogs and delays

Recent data analysed by the Law Society reveals a worrying trend, particularly in private family law cases, where an increasing number of individuals navigate legal proceedings without professional representation.

In regions like Central London, East London, Essex, Suffolk, and Manchester, the impact is stark, with thousands of cases proceeding without legal guidance. This rise in litigants in person (LiPs) can be traced back to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), which drastically curtailed access to legal aid, compelling many to seek resolution in court rather than through mediation.

Law Society President Nick Emmerson underscores the severity of the situation, emphasising that the lack of free legal advice leaves many individuals, particularly those on lower incomes or living in poverty, unable to access justice. The consequences are profound, as family law cases often involve high-stakes matters such as child custody, domestic abuse, and divorce, where professional guidance is essential.

The rise in litigants in person exacerbates existing pressures on an already strained system. Court closures, diminishing resources, and escalating backlogs further compound the challenges faced by individuals seeking resolution. Shockingly, data from the Ministry of Justice reveals that over 100,000 children were caught in backlogs in 2023, depriving them of the stability crucial for their well-being.

Moreover, statistics from the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory paint a troubling picture, indicating elevated rates of depression and anxiety among children involved in private law proceedings compared to their peers. These findings underscore the urgent need for intervention to safeguard the welfare of vulnerable individuals and families.

While the UK government has taken some steps to address these issues, including investments in early legal advice and the development of online guidance tools, the Law Society contends that more comprehensive action is required. Key recommendations include increasing civil legal aid fees to sustain providers and expanding eligibility criteria to ensure broader access to justice.

Additionally, the Law Society calls for enhancements to the Qualified Legal Representative (QLR) scheme, aimed at protecting victims from cross-examination by alleged perpetrators. By bolstering support for legal aid and addressing systemic underinvestment, the government can mitigate the adverse effects of self-representation and fortify the family justice system for the benefit of all.

As policymakers consider the implications of these findings, urgent action is needed to address the root causes of the crisis and safeguard the rights and well-being of individuals and families navigating the complexities of the legal system. Only through concerted efforts and sustained investment can we ensure that access to justice remains a fundamental cornerstone of society.

Lexis+ AI