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Lord Chief Justice concerned by number of LiPs in the family courts

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Thoughts voiced in latest press conference.

  • The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, has expressed concern over the number of LiPs involved in private family law disputes.

    The concerns were aired at his latest press conference where Jane Croft of The Financial Times asked whether there is "a real problem with litigants in person coming to court, especially the Court of Appeal?". Lord Thomas responded that 

    "Yes, it is a problem across the entire system. Some of you will remember when Lord Denning was Master of the Rolls some time ago. He used to have litigants in person. They used to take about ten minutes and he was… I have never seen anyone deal with them better. He was wonderful. So we have always had them. The problem is we have now far too many. In the Court of Appeal, the cases take up much longer. We have taken steps to try and deal with them by… particularly people who have huge quantities of paper and bring them along and we have a very valuable core of judicial assistants. Where the real problems lie, I think, are in the family courts. One of the things that is concerning us, and I think the concern has arisen recently, is the withdrawal of legal aid and legal assistance from private law family disputes. If you have a dispute about the children, it is obviously desirable that this is settled as soon as possible. There was a move to do more mediation but the difficulty with mediation is that unless you have someone who says, "Yes, the judge won't say anything different to the mediator," if someone has lost, they feel, "Well, why shouldn't we press on?" or they try and solve the thing themselves and what is beginning to emerge, and we need to study this in much more detail, is: is the withdrawal of legal aid causing a problem in resolving dispute between father and mother about the children. There is some evidence to indicate that attempts to settle these issues between the father and the mother exacerbate the problem in some cases and a dispute that is exacerbated takes more time to solve in the end. Whether the answer is legal aid or what they do in California, which is to provide a service where there is a lawyer at the court who can speak to both parties, I do not know, but everything thought that the numbers had dropped, everything was well. The numbers of cases are now rising again and we need seriously… this is a real problem and it is a problem for society which needs detailed examination. 

    Later on, when asked about online courts, he emphasised that the development of such courts will not deprive people of access to a judge:

    "We simply cannot take that away from people. I have never been a great enthusiast of compulsory mediation because I do believe that deprives people of the right to go to a judge and maybe, if you want to see a judge, you should not have that right taken away from you and it is a right. 

    The full transcript of the press conference can be found on the Judiciary website.


Published: 30/11/2016

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