What price justice? Introducing John Bolch

John Bolch and Marilyn StoweThe talented John Bolch (left) requires little by way of introduction. Many of you already know him as the author of two useful family law web resources: the Family Lore blog and Family Lore Focus. Today I can announce that John Bolch will also be contributing to the Marilyn Stowe Family Law & Divorce Blog.

I am delighted to welcome John on board and, with the readers and commenters that we have here, I am confident that he will soon feel at home. John’s first post is about the fall in the numbers of couples attending mediation. After the legal aid cutbacks, who are the real “winners”? Are there any?

 

As regular readers of this blog know, the Government abolished legal aid for most family matters (save where a local authority is involved) on 1 April 2013. The Government’s ‘flagship’ solution to filling the gap that this left is mediation, which has been promoted by ministers at every opportunity over the last year or more.

Yesterday came the news that the number of couples attending out-of-court mediation to resolve family disputes since legal aid was cut have plummeted by 47 per cent. The primary reason for this is, quite simply, that people are no longer going to see solicitors because they cannot get legal aid, and so solicitors are no longer referring them to mediators. Instead, those people are going straight to court as ‘litigants in person’, without the help of legal advice or representation.

Clearly, mediation is not filling the gap left by the abolition of legal aid, even if it could ever be a substitute, which it could not. Mediation is not suitable for every case, and mediation does not, of course, always produce a result – i.e. an agreed settlement between the parties.

But lack of legal representation for litigants is not just an enormous disadvantage to them, it is also an enormous burden upon the court system, as has been highlighted by Mr Justice Holman in a recent case, already mentioned on this blog earlier today. In his judgment he referred to a lecture given by the President of the Supreme Court Lord Neuberger in June. In that lecture Lord Neuberger pointed out ‘some of the considerable risks and consequences which may flow, and indeed are already flowing, from reductions in the availability of legal aid’. He said:

“…the money problems faced by legal aid are also faced by the courts system, and it is vital for the Ministry [of Justice] to appreciate that any changes which are made to reduce legal aid and cut the cost of litigation are likely to have a knock-on effect on the cost of the courts.  Less legal aid means more unrepresented litigants and worse lawyers, which will lead to longer hearings and more judge-time.”

So, in return for a modest saving of £350 million (a drop in the ocean of government expenditure – the bank bailout was said to cost £850 billion), the abolition of legal aid has simultaneously denied proper access to justice for many, slowed the system of justice and added to its cost.

Photo of conference table by Becky Lai via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

17 comments

Paul - October 1, 2013 at 4:43pm

You can still get legal aid. Just make an allegation of DV and the money comes pouring in.

Legal aid in family cases is an abomination. It’s been abused left, right and centre. What was the legal community doing about that? Answer, nothing, other than feeding at the trough. Hundreds of thousands of family cases have been distorted by legal aid. Fathers have struggled in situations where legal aid granted to resident motherss has been used to make allegations or stretch out a case to keep him away from his children. I am glad to see the back of it and I could not care one iota that there will be some fathers affected too. On balance, the availability of legal aid was very bad news for fathers. The moment the mother of my child lost her funding, she packed in her opposition and agreed to share residence with me and not before time too.

If there’s too many cases in courts now, that’s because the existing state of UK family law and surrounding social policy makes it all too easy for a resident mother to deny contact. Separated mothers can call on the agencies for help. Where does a separated father draw strength from, other than his own family if he’s lucky enough to have one? Nowhere. UK family law sucks.

The problem needs sorting at root with better family law, that leaves no doubt that separated fathers seeking to raise their children will get the time required. The government should have spent the money on the Australian family relationship centre idea.

Stitchedup - October 1, 2013 at 4:46pm

In my experience , an offer of mediation is more likely to provoke a false allegation of domestic abuse. I was told the courts do not look kindly on people that refuse mediation, so false allegations of domestic abuse are used to negate the offer of mediation. False allegations of domestic abuse are also used to secure legal aid.

Women know they have the upper hand in court so there is little incentive for them to go to mediation, particularly if the man is making moral arguments rather than legal arguments.

Anonymous - October 1, 2013 at 11:31pm

Paul is right 100%. You do not need to have any proof, and in fact you can still get oodles of legal aid even after the court has thrown out all the false allegations, because naturally the legal services commission is completely ignorant of the top secret judgements being made in court.

Mediation is a fool’s game so long as the courts in this country continue to operate so incompetently and so maliciously, and so long as the lsc happily squanders taxpayer money.

Even if it were true that fewer people were going to lawyers, this would be a real victory where children’s rights to family life are concerned. But it is far from the truth.

JamesB - October 2, 2013 at 11:45am

false allegations of domestic abuse are used to negate the offer of mediation

I found that to be true.

man is making moral arguments rather than legal arguments

I found the two are not the same also. What is moral and what is legal here are different. Morality or fairness is not family law in my experience at all. The main thing for them is to throw money at the children which makes the matter worse and worse and the sooner they change their ways the better.

JamesB - May 18, 2016 at 1:07pm

What is moral and what is legal here are different

Same goes for there being a difference between the law in the jurisdiction and natural law.

In one jurisdiction for example a wife might be stoned to death for adultery under the law, where in another (here, in England and Wales) she will be given the house and income from husband and most of assets and the children and a new boyfriend and husband out the door. I suggest the solution should be more between those two extremes in England and Wales family law. The Scottish system is fair would be good if we could have that in England and Wales also please.

JamesB - May 18, 2016 at 1:09pm

p.s.

No, I am not arguing for fault divorce, just more fairness with children and financial settlements in divorce, including pre nups, as they have in Scotland.

JamesB - May 18, 2016 at 1:26pm

The CSA/CMEC/CMS/CMOptions should also be scrapped and that matter go back to the court.

JamesB - May 18, 2016 at 1:35pm

Thinking about confronting it in the adultery situation, you’d probably get more than arrested, you’d probably get a criminal record and all that entails also actually.

Paul - October 2, 2013 at 11:50pm

Welcome to the esteemed Mr Bolch by the way. Let’s hope he doesn’t get too bolshy with the usual suspects on here. I would welcome his insights on where UK family law is headed, particularly private law after separation.

Anonymous - October 8, 2013 at 8:42pm

Well, let’s just hope that we do not hear any more bolsh[edited] from apologists in the industry. Time to admit that we have caused harm to families, and to look to set things right.

Luke - October 11, 2013 at 12:20am

“any more bolsh[edited]”

Very restrained editing Marilyn in allowing the essence of the opinion to be understood – and frankly bl***** funny ! 🙂

Esworth Anderson - June 13, 2015 at 12:37pm

I am astonished as to the amount of do Goode’s on the net shouting Injustice but still this unjust system still existed and is not getting any better, We have ex-Police Officers, Lawyers, Barristers and numerous Organisations preaching they are all for justice but are they? Many are still restricted as to how Far they can or allowed to go, They still hold their FM Cards and swore to protect the system and the back of their Colleague, Right now Marilyn Stowe, If I present to you my case and ask you or one of your Colleague to take on my case neither you or your Colleague will not take my Case,
Will you take on my case? please send me a reply as soon as possible,
With so many fighting against injustice we should be victorious by now but instead we are still logging behind, You can form an organisation as big and powerful as the TUC or any of those powerful Trade Unions, You could have 10s of Millions of the Nation fighting with you for JUSTICE

JamesB - May 18, 2016 at 1:17pm

To stress the point, she could introduce her boyfriend into the marriage bed while you and she are there, say while you are reading a book, and start having sex with him and will be rewarded in the same manner (with the children and the assets and the income) too. That needs addressing as is probably a bit unfair and excessive and needs amending. If you complain or do anything about it you get arrested and a criminal record plus lose all the rest as above (the children and the assets and the income). That’s not justice, that’s well dodgy.

JamesB - May 18, 2016 at 1:18pm

I could take John’s arguments to pieces every day of the week.

JamesB - May 18, 2016 at 1:20pm

I could also take the MCA 1973 to pieces (to be like Scotland) and the children act to pieces and advise how they could be improved (with assumption of shared residence). It should not be like that though, they should be fit for purpose where currently they are not.

JamesB - May 18, 2016 at 1:22pm

J Bolch wound me up again, I must remember to ignore him and try to move on more while doing what I can to stop the dodgy systems he supports and pushes.

JamesB - May 18, 2016 at 1:36pm

In addition to all of the other stuff which would happen which I mentioned above, which makes the current law bad.

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