New evidence that the family courts backlog is building already

Any regular reader of this blog will be well aware of my views on the recent changes in divorce law and their effect on the day-to-day functioning of the family courts system. The virtual elimination of legal aid (or “public funding” to give it its correct term) from almost all divorce cases means that tens of thousands of people will no longer have access to experienced divorce solicitors to help with their divorce – so they’ll have to deal with their legal paperwork themselves. As anyone who is well versed in the operation of the family courts and the law will be well aware, dealing with unrepresented people (the technical term is “litigants in person”) can massively extend the time taken by the courts. When you ally that to recent public spending cutbacks which have meant a reduction in front line staff at many courts and the shortening of opening hours of the court office (often the only source of legal assistance for litigants in person), major backlogs seemed inevitable.

I have just received a letter from the Court office in Swindon, dated June 7, 2013, indicating that they are already planning to change the way private and public law, children proceedings and divorce in Wiltshire and Hampshire are dealt with. They are refreshingly frank about the existing backlog. “As you may be aware, Swindon County Court has for some time been dealing with a backlog of work”. Couldn’t really be much clearer, could it!

And as a result in future, as the Courts service prepares for the Single Family Court, a decision has been apparently taken to “centralise all office based work relating to divorce at the Salisbury office and all private and public law at the Swindon office” – this takes effect on August 1. It’s not clear what the impact of this will be on people using the court and in particular litigants in person – but I suspect it may require more time spent travelling for family lawyers, their clients and litigants in person alike – and, if local courts don’t deal with local litigants in person, we could see an increase in time spent by non-local courts dealing with this litigants in person.

All in all – the prospect of getting family law work dealt with swiftly by the courts in Wiltshire is receding fast.