The Law Society today expressed its ‘extreme concern’ over the increased number of litigants in person in private family law cases in the decade since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act came in to force.

In a call to the government, it said civil legal aid fees should be increased ‘so that legal aid providers remain viable’ and urged the government to uprate civil legal aid means test eligibility so more individuals on lower incomes can access justice. It also called for an increase in fees for the qualified legal representative scheme.

In 2023, neither the applicant nor the respondent was represented in 39% of private law cases.

Of the private law open caseload, as of 31 March 2023, 31,767 parties were unrepresented. The highest numbers were in central London (2,691), east London (2,313), Essex and Suffolk (2,051), west London (1,813), and Manchester (1,658).

In October to December 2023, the proportion of disposals where neither the applicant nor the respondent had legal representation was 38%, a fall of two percentage points from the same period in 2022 but an increase of 24 percentage points since January to March 2013.

In April 2013, legal aid was removed from many private law cases under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

Society president Nick Emmerson said: ‘Removing legal advice led to many more people going straight to court instead of seeking to resolve their cases through mediation.

‘As the figures show, thousands of people are being forced to take on their case on their own, as they have no access to free legal advice. Means test eligibility has not been uprated for years, meaning people on lower incomes and sometimes those living in poverty, are unable to access justice.

‘It is extremely concerning to see the rise in the number of people representing themselves in these kinds of cases. The rise in litigants in person is creating further pressure on a system already in crisis. Further action is needed to make our family law justice system fit for purpose.’


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