After months of media speculation, Parliamentary debate and pressure on the government from various sources, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012 received Royal assent yesterday and comes into effect with effect from April 1, 2013. The act introduces a wide range of reforms to the whole public funding [legal aid] system – ranging from the funding of divorce to medical negligence claims.
The new Act will have a massive impact on divorce – principally because, with some highly limited exceptions relating to domestic violence and injunctions, divorce is being completely removed from the scope of legal aid. So in future, whether it’s a straightforward divorce, complicated ancillary relief battle or private law children act case [perhaps for contact or residence] everyone is either going to pay their divorce solicitor privately or do it themselves, acting as a litigant in person.
Whilst we fully understand the governments need to reduce the truly massive legal aid budget in times of austerity, our divorce solicitors predict some truly unfortunate consequences from the government’s latest decision. Quite apart from issues of access to justice, there’s going to be massive pressure on the courts. Those outside the legal profession often don’t realise quite how much family lawyers speed matters up by getting clients to agree. The courts will be overwhelmed with the need to help litigants in person struggling with their own divorce proceedings – and judges are going to have enormous problems timetabling and dealing with many more contested family law hearings, which will inevitably result from the lack of good family law advice.
It’s going to be a truly tough time for the family courts and for those without the cash to fund a family lawyer of their own.