Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my predictions of the major problems that are going to occur with effect from next April, when divorce is effectively removed from the scope of legal aid – leaving tens of thousands of divorcing couples in the UK without the ability to pay for a solicitor to help them through their divorce. The government’s timing is particularly inept – given that it comes hot on the heels of Court Service cutbacks – which have resulted in less court staff and reduced opening hours for court offices – whose helpful staff have, in the past, regularly provided a useful source of advice for those people who are trying to represent themselves in court.
The government’s latest answer – a trendy web app. It’s hardly a comprehensive solution – costing just £300,000. All the so-called “Sorting out Separation” app appears to do is to provide is to provide free advice and guidance to separating couples – the majority of which advice is already readily available for anyone bothering to serve the web anyway. Do the government seriously think that a online maintenance calculator and a few tips on parenting are going to replace the very real need for the individualised legal advice that so many separating and divorcing couples and their children so badly need. Of course not.
Oh, and apparently it contains a link to the Law Society’s own online service finding a solicitor – which is not much use if you cannot afford divorce solicitors in the first place. What other positive steps of this government taking to stop this disaster? Nothing, as far as I’m aware.
In reality, we are going to see the courts clogged up with arguing couples trying to represent themselves without legal advice, who simply don’t understand court procedure, let alone the law and its practical application to their particular circumstances, and many couples (as is already happening in America) simply separating without ever divorcing – just because they can’t afford it.
In itself, this app is probably a good thing – but is it going to solve the real problem of Insufficient access to good family law advice– of course not. It will be about as effective as King Canute trying to turn back the waves [though the difference is that he had the honesty to recognise that his efforts were utterly futile].