Divorcing couples in a dispute over children or finances go to court without a lawyer in 36 per cent of cases, official figures show.
The scrapping of legal aid in the majority of divorce-related disputes has led to a 20 per cent rise in litigants in person.
The rise in “DIY justice” is underlined in family court statistics from the Ministry of Justice, from April to June 2017, published yesterday.
Lawyers said that the increase in litigants acting for themselves was putting increasing pressure on the courts. Senior judges, including the outgoing lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, have described the difficulties caused by the lack of legal aid.
The rise in divorce cases carried out without lawyers is “deeply worrying”, Lord Thomas told the justice committee of MPs this month.
Jo Edwards, a partner the London law firm Forsters and a former chairwoman of Resolution, the family lawyers group, said that the latest family court statistics “highlight that although there was some modest easing in the number of cases being issued, there remains significant pressure on the family courts, both with public law cases, but increasingly also with private law applications for orders relating to child arrangements or money”.
The rise in people acting without lawyers coupled with a rise in the number of applications to the court resulted in a “clogging up of the system by those without representation who, with access to even a little publicly funded legal advice at the outset, may have been signposted into mediation or given information which would have helped them settle their case,” she said.
Edwards added that there were also unknown numbers who, without legal aid, “simply give up and do not pursue money claims or rights to see their children”.
Lawyers called for an urgent assessment of the legal aid cuts, which were made four years ago. Edwards said that the study should quantify whether there had been any saving when taking into account these costs, and whether some limited funding for initial advice should be reintroduced.
Another family lawyer, Neil Russell, a partner at Seddons in London, said: “With an increasing number of litigants in person, this slows down the proceedings and adds further pressure on the courts. It also means that litigants are not getting the benefit of much needed legal advice when dealing with critical family issues, often with life-changing consequences.”