The withdrawal of legal aid for family law cases has had an alarming knock-on effect on courtroom dynamics a Birmingham lawyer has warned.
Christine Patterson, head of family law and partner at Shakespeares’ Birmingham office, claimed courtroom dynamics have changed for the worse since the legal aid change regarding divorce and family law cases came into effect a year ago.
Ms Patterson also claimed the increasing number of people choosing to represent themselves is putting those who opt for legal representation at a disadvantage.
She said as a result judges frequently felt obliged to spend a disproportionate amount of time explaining court procedure to the unrepresented litigant, which can cause the proceedings to take much longer.
Also that represented parties can be landed with bills for the preparation of documentation in situations where it would not normally be their responsibility, simply because they are the only party to have a solicitor in court.
“It is understandable that judges want to take extra care to ensure that unrepresented litigants understand courtroom procedure but it is not fair that this happens at the expense of the other party with legal representation,” said Ms Patterson.
“In financial proceedings connected to divorce, for example, it is not unusual for a three-day hearing to become a four-day hearing simply because so much time has to be allowed for dealing with issues that arise because one party has no solicitor.”
She added: “We also find that unrepresented litigants are sometimes given too much leeway by the judge to make statements and bring issues to bear that would otherwise not be aired.
“This is frustrating and jeopardises the possibility of securing a sensible deal for both parties swiftly and efficiently.”
In a bid to improve the situation Ms Patterson has called on judges to take a more “robust approach” and act to ensure costs do not escalate.
She said: “I would like to see judges in family law cases taking a much more robust approach to ensuring that when there is one unrepresented litigant in court, both parties are treated fairly, and that proceedings are kept on track to avoid costs escalating unnecessarily.”