I had an interesting conversation earlier today with a local district judge. We were discussing the potential problems that family law courts are going to be facing following the almost simultaneous reduction in the opening hours of many court offices, along with the removal of legal aid from almost all divorce cases – delayed, all public funding, for divorce remains available only in limited circumstances, mainly involving domestic violence.
He, like other district judges. I have spoken to, is pessimistic about the effect of these changes on the court system – they all felt that amongst the significant problems that will emerge over the forthcoming months and years are a huge court backlog [which will of course slow down all family cases – not just those who are representing themselves] and concerns about access to justice.
However, he mentioned something which I haven’t seen discussed openly before – the lack of practical divorce and family law expertise of many judges when it comes to reviewing proposed divorce settlements. Relatively few judges are still practising solicitors – what’s more, just because you’re a district judge dealing with family cases, doesn’t mean that you have a history of practice in family law yourself. That hasn’t been so important recently because with most cases involving representation of both parties by experienced family lawyers, so the judge could rely on these experienced divorce lawyers, for example, to draft an final order once he or she had made a judgement. That’s not going to happen if both parties are representing themselves. Each judge will have to draw up their own order themselves – which could be asking a lot of a judge never been a family or divorce law practitioner.
Will they all get it right? Probably not. Will incorrect drafting by a judge of their own order give grounds for appeal – I reckon so.