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Baroness Butler-Sloss warns legal aid cuts could cause court delays

Date:15 DEC 2010

ParliamentThe former President of the Family Division, Baroness Butler-Sloss, has warned that cuts to legal aid could result in cases in the family courts taking longer because people will be forced to represent themselves.

Baroness Butler-Sloss tabled a question in House of Lords on Monday asking what steps the government were taking "to assess the impact on family courts of the increased number of litigants in person who will have to represent their own cases if they no longer qualify for legal aid".

Justice Minister Lord McNally said the government was currently reviewing the existing data and research into the impact of litigants in person on the courts. He added that this will contribute to the analysis in the final impact assessments due to be published alongside the legal aid consultation response in spring 2011.

Lord McNally also reiterated that the government wanted to move away from litigation in settling family disputes and promote mediation as an alternative.

Baroness Butler-Sloss responded by saying that a "hard core" of family law cases could not be dealt with through mediation.

"As a judge who tried a large number of family cases where both sides were litigants in person, I can confirm that these cases will take much longer," the crossbench peer said.

She added: "Do you realise that there is a hard core of people who are fighting over their children who will not agree through mediation?"

Lord McNally replied: "The intention, though, is to try and move a large number of these cases away from the court system and into mediation and other forms of settlement of dispute.

"I fully accept there are family disputes that can become so bitter and intractable that resolution is very difficult but that still doesn't argue the case for the taxpayer funding both sides in that sort of dispute."

Last month Justice Secretary Ken Clarke unveiled the Ministry of Justice's programme to reform legal aid, including cutting funding for family private law cases such as divorce and child contact proceedings.