We are all frequently faced with information about the pressure on our National Health Service and the many different theories on what is causing it. Sadly, the same level of focus isn’t directed towards our justice system.
If you don’t work in the legal sector or haven’t been through the Court system yourself recently then it is unlikely that you will be aware of the severe pressure it is under at present.
Sir Andrew MacFarlane, the President of the Family Division has recently spoken out over the increased workloads and delays being experienced in the family courts and the high levels of stress being faced by all who work in the family justice system. The President likened the current position ‘as trying to run up a down escalator’.
At Ringrose Law we have ourselves experienced the differences overtime and noticed the strain on those within the Court system, the impact it has on those working within it and the way this affects our client, for whom the matters at stake going before the Courts are of great importance.
Two key suggestions from the President of the Family Division in respect of what has led to the current pressures are;
A large increase in applications received by the Court, especially children matters.
People are having to represent themselves in proceedings due to not being in a position to fund their own legal representation or qualify for legal aid.
The Coalition Government in 2012, passed law which removed Legal Aid from most family cases. As a rule of thumb it is now only available if you are within public law children proceedings or you both meeting the financial criteria and can evidence that you have been a victim of domestic abuse perpetrated by the other parent in private law children proceedings.
This has significantly reduced the number of parents eligible for legal aid in private law disputes relating to their children. The knock-on effect being that parents may make an application that they wouldn’t have, had they had access to legal advice in respect of potential alternatives, the reality of the court process or their cases prospects. Further it stands to reason that If you don’t have someone representing you in court who knows and understands the procedure then this will undoubtedly lead to delays.
It has become normal for families to have to wait months for court hearings, months to resolve issues that could have been resolved far more quickly had there been the resource available to do so. As a hypothetical example, if a parent makes a serious allegation about their child’s other parent, the Court will wish to get to the bottom of this allegation before making any decision about the time that child spends with the second parent. Presume hypothetically that the allegation is false. We know that the Court will get to the bottom of this. However, they don’t have the available resource to list a hearing in order to get to the bottom of the issues for 4 months. This can feel like torture to the second parent whose relationship with their child may be put under pressure for all of this time.
Further the sheer number of cases to be heard and the time available for them to be heard can lead to matters being dealt with too quickly and without proper time to sure that the case has been afforded appropriate consideration before a decision is made.
In Nottingham Family Court it has recently become the norm for a first hearing to be assigned not to a judge or a magistrate’s panel but to a legal advisor who doesn’t have the power to Order anything that isn’t already agreed between the parties. A parent can wait a month for an application to be heard only to arrive to find that only what the other parent agrees to can be ordered at the first hearing. This presents difficulties because people rarely make applications to court when they can agree things with the other parent. They then have to wait for another hearing to be scheduled before anything can move forward.
All of this is particularly of concern because the main consideration in any children matter is what best serves the welfare of the child. Arguably this is undermined if their case isn’t properly considered or the time delays in their case being considered put strain on their relationship with one or both of their parents.
At Ringrose Law we are experienced in family matters and know the pros and pitfalls of working through the Court system and can advise you on how best to approach the process in order to make it work for you. We also offer mediation whereby a professional mediator can liase between parents to resolve conflicts in a speedier more cost-effective process than going through the Courts.
For children matters we offer free legal clinics at our offices in Newark, Lincoln, Boston, Spalding, Sleaford and Grantham.