Cuts will not damage family justice, says Munby

Topics: Criminal justice,Family and children,Legal aid and access to justice,Government & politics

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  • Sir James Munby

Legal aid cuts will not undermine family justice, the head of the Family Division insisted last week as he mooted plans for judge-free divorces and greater legal rights for separating cohabitees.

When wide-ranging reforms of the family justice system came into force last month, the Law Society warned that the changes would be undermined by cuts to legal aid, increasing the number of litigants in person and adding to delay.

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But asked by the Gazette last week whether he shared the concern, Sir James Munby (pictured) said: ‘The simple answer at present is no.’

He told a press conference: ‘The way one squares the circle between the increasing number of cases, the increasing time that cases take if there are litigants in person… and the availability of finite resources, is in principle simple and I believe achievable.’

He suggested the same steps that have been applied to speed up public law matters – including robust case management and changes in relation to experts – should be applied to private law cases. ‘We are already seeing the fruits of that process in the public law cases,’ he said.

In response to the increase in the number of litigants in person, Munby suggested the judicial process will have to be more ‘inquisitorial’, though he was at pains to insist it should not go down the route of the continental system.

He is also keen to encourage greater take-up of mediation. There is, he suggested, ‘almost a crisis in mediation’ which ‘should have been foreseen by the government’.

Outlining other possible reforms, Munby suggested consideration be given to taking divorce out of the hands of judges and making it a purely administrative process, that could be dealt with by a ‘registrar of births, marriages, deaths and divorces’.

Such a process, he said, would be appropriate only in cases of divorce by consent and where there were no children.

He insisted that changing the process would not make divorce easier or undermine marriage, noting that the law has permitted divorce by consent for some 30 years.

Munby was also keen to tackle the ‘injustice’ faced by cohabiting couples when they separate.

He said the unfairness of their having no legal right to the financial relief to which married partners would be entitled has been recognised by judges since 1973, but nothing has been done about it.  

The public, he said, has ‘not been sold’ on mediation, but ‘steps are now being taken to remedy things’. He hopes that ‘once the message gets out that mediation is available and works’, take-up will increase.

Readers' comments (6)

  • Yet another judicial idiot who is presiding over the destruction of our justice system.

    I suggest that he donates his gold-plated pension to the local Law Centre.

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  • The powers that be are trying to solve the crisis by turning the alarms off! This Government and its goons are presiding over the running down of an entire legal system. In 10 more years of this destruction there will be nothing left, and the vandals who wrecked it for generations to come will be growing fatter on their pensions.

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  • It is disasterous, a catastrophe, a crying shame that those who most need representation cannot afford it. In both civil and criminal law a refusal to fund a case is as bad as a total denial of justice.

    But hang on a minute. Are HMG doing this out of principle? Are they trying to lose the next election? Do I hear Labour saying they will reverse these cuts? No I do not. And why? Because they know their profligacy got us into this mess in the first place and somehow the debt they ran up with the national debit card has to be repaid.

    And another thing, when I told Ian Lucas MP (Labour, Wrexham) that I would vote for him if his party would agree to reverse Lord Mackay's legal aid cuts, he replied "There are no votes in saying you are going to pay lawyers more, David" As with all MPs, right, left and centre, they are only interested in getting elected and then retaining their seats.

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  • Judges at all levels but particularly at the lower end cannot know all the law nor can they be expected to. Without lawyer advocates to help them they will make more mistakes. The fact that it is harder than ever to appeal and litigants in person will usually be afraid of doing so anyway will merely mask this failure of justice. It is worrying that such a senior member of the judiciary doesn't realise that this is the case.

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  • Sir your heraldic tiara does you proud

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  • I despair. How can anyone least of all a member of the Judiciary make a claim of such breathtaking ignorance. Doesn't he know its already affecting the course of Justice, the recently stayed land fraud case being just the beginning

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