Access to Justice – How much do parents really have?

The legal system has become noticeably more impenetrable in recent years.

Research by Resolution shows that where before 25-45 people on average were turned away, in 2018 this has increased to 100-200. So what’s changed, and more importantly can anything be done about it?


Following the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), most private family law cases – including matters regarding the arrangements for spending time with children – do not qualify for the services of a Legal Aid lawyer. Many parents are finding themselves under the microscope of the Family Courts alone, arguing disputes regarding their children without legal aid.

Cases where arrangements for children and/or financial issues arise from separation are increasingly unrepresented. Many family lawyers have found themselves unable to assist people in such circumstances due to the changes to the Legal Aid system in 2014. Legal aid is available to those arguing against the State, but not to disputes between parents, leaving them to fight their own battles on their own budget. As a result, a lack of funds means representation is not an option for many.

This has had a significant impact on the scale of these types of cases, often elongating them and making them much harder to resolve. As Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon has said, “Separation and decisions over child access are some of the most difficult moments people will ever go through. When people are priced out of getting legal help, this can make it even harder for all involved, especially the children, and can escalate into divisive family court battles with long-term consequences”.

Is mediation the answer?

The government’s Legal Aid goal was to encourage a greater focus on mediation as a way of resolving conflicts, but it does not seem to have succeeded. While mediation is compulsory in the majority of cases, many attend court afterwards without understanding the benefits or resolutions that mediation can bring. Jayne Kirtley, our Legal Executive Advocate at Foys Solicitors, puts it best: “Early help can sometimes avoid the need for court proceedings and the emotional conflict that this can bring. Being able to agree on matters amicably works far better than forcing it.

Despite the benefits, mediation is still an option that is largely overlooked. Instead of parties resolving their differences beforehand, Judges now find themselves commonly faced with two unrepresented parties; one party or both being represented is now the exception rather than the norm. Government figures currently suggest that 46% of private family law cases had a lawyer on each side in April to June 2012, but in the same period in 2018, only 19% did. The option is there, but many simply don’t know how to take advantage of it. This is where Foys Solicitors can come in.

We can help

At Foys, our experienced Children and Separation solicitors are equipped to offer practical advice in these situations. We’re experts at helping you through the process of mediation, and a consultation with us includes the first 30 minutes free. If you need help or know someone that may benefit from our assistance, fill out our Online Form or get in touch with your local office:

  • Doncaster – 01302 327 136
  • Retford – 01777 703 100
  • Worksop – 01909 500 511
  • Clowne – 01246 810 050
  • Rotherham – 01709 375 561
  • Sheffield (Waterthorpe) – 0114 251 1702
  • Sheffield (Chapeltown) – 0114 246 7609

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