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8 September 2014

Divorce courts hit by delays as "warring couples opt to represent themselves"

Divorce taking three weeks longer on average than last year as impact of legal aid changes are felt, law firm Hugh James claims in The Daily Telegraph.

Divorce courts are beginning to grind to a halt because of growing numbers of people representing themselves in court because of legal fees, new figures suggest.

An average divorce now takes more than three weeks longer than it would have done less than a year ago, the analysis of court records by the law firm Hugh James shows.

It follows a rise in the number of people appearing without a lawyer after the removal of legal aid in most types of family case last year.

The study calculates that a dissolution finalised in the first quarter of this year typically took almost six months – an average of 23.9 weeks – to process from the first application to the granting of a decree nisi.

That represents a 10 per cent increase on the average in the previous three month period and was 15 per cent longer than the second quarter of last year, when typical divorce took 20.8 weeks.

Cases brought by litigants in person took an average of 32.6 weeks in the first quarter of this year, more than a third longer than average.

Speaking to MPs last year, Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, acknowledged that growing numbers of litigants in person since the legal aid changes were putting new pressure on the courts.

Charlotte Leyshon, an Associate at Hugh James, said: “The slowdown in family law cases is impacting on everyone, not just those litigants who have been impacted by the withdrawal of legal aid.

“Judges, solicitors, and our clients are growing increasingly frustrated by the length of time cases are taking.

“Going through a divorce is highly stressful and the delays that we’re seeing at the moment don’t help anyone.

“More people are trying to represent themselves in court but they lack the experience and technical knowledge of lawyers. Inevitably they will make mistakes in filling out forms properly or preparing evidence and it’s this lack of experience, as well as a cut in resources available, that is leading to delays.”