the legal services board has recently published the results of its research into the provision of unregulated legal services, in other words people/organisations who provide legal advice but who are not solicitors, barristers or other qualified lawyers such as licensed conveyancers. this report targets one of the main battlegrounds in the brave new legal world of technological advances. at its extremes, the qualified lawyers are depicted as old fashioned fat cats trying to keep hold of an outdated monopoly, so they can carry on ripping off the general public. the unqualified providers are presented as cowboy outfits intent on making a fast buck, with no proper standards, expertise or accountability. as is usually the case, such generalisations are not particularly helpful.
in the family law arena the report found that about 10 to 13% of divorce services are provided by unregulated entities, mainly online divorce providers and unqualified advisers known as mckenzie friends, and this proportion was lower than anticipated. the main reasons for choosing an unregulated provider over a solicitor were found to be lower prices, greater transparency and certainty over pricing and better innovation and use of technology. the main dangers with using non solicitors were seen to be the possibility of misleading advertising claims and confusion as to whether or not the providers were qualified lawyers. indeed there has been a proposal that no-one should be able to describe themselves as a “lawyer” without having some kind of legal qualification, due to a lack of understanding about what this word actually means.
there lies the rub. firms of solicitors are regulated by the solicitors regulation authority (the sra) which requires firms to maintain insurance, to comply with various professional standards, and to have ongoing legal training amongst other stipulations. there is no doubt that these requirements help to uphold standards and give clients an opportunity for compensation if things go wrong, but they also add to the cost of running a solicitors’s practice which contributes to higher charges. this is illustrated by the recent plea from the law society to government to delay any further review of legal market regulation, to allow solicitors’ firms enough time to deal with the legal fallout from brexit. the public is aware that some lawyers earn large sums of money and there is a general perception that legal fees are not affordable to the average person. there is certainly some truth in this, for example for a “normal” family involved in financial remedy proceedings on divorce.
on the other hand, the process of getting divorced itself is fairly simple, although sorting out related issues concerning children and finances can be very complicated. nonetheless divorce petitions can and do go wrong, and there must be a concern that clients may not be able to obtain proper compensation from a company that isn’t obliged to maintain insurance cover or be tested on levels of expertise.
the reality is probably that both sides could up their game for the benefit of the general public. the legal profession has tended in the past to be conservative, old fashioned and resistant to evolution, although there is some evidence that this is changing. solicitors need to show more willingness to innovate and deliver legal services in different ways and in particular law firms need to understand that hourly charging rates are unpopular with the general public. they make it very difficult to predict the likely overall cost of a case and can even appear to reward inefficiency.
the other side of that coin is that unregulated providers may need to provide more protection for consumers when things do go wrong if they are to escape all statutory regulation, such as maintaining minimum levels of insurance cover. they may also need to introduce some form of quality control to root out rogue operators.
having said that, there is a perception in recent years that government has been intent on bashing the professions as part of a treasury driven cost cutting exercise and that it may therefore be willing to allow unregulated providers to continue offering legal services to increase competition and drive down costs. if so, that may well be a short sighted approach.
fortunately justdivorce.co.uk continues to sit quite happily between these 2 camps, as an innovative provider of online legal services at fixed transparent prices, fully regulated by the sra. yes, sometimes you can actually have the best of both worlds!
this blog would lose its hard earned credibility if i fail to add my two penny worth to the great brexit debate – but i will try to keep it short! we have all been bombarded with stats, facts, claims and the inevitable counter claims from both camps during the last few months of increasingly acrimonious debate about whether or not the uk should remain in the european union. it’s been fun to watch the tory party implode spectacularly without any help from a largely anonymous jeremy corbyn. immigration, sovereignty and rather dubious economic arguments have largely dominated the debate, but so far as i am aware there have been few headlines about how a brexit might affect the legal industry in this country and the law of the land itself.
given the international pre-eminence of the city of london, a bailout would presumably have a significant effect on the magic circle firms, but inevitably there seem to be competing views about whether or not this impact would be positive or negative. would it release the city from the shackles of eu regulation, leaving it free to deal with the genuine world powers in the usa and china, or would it cut us off from our closest and most important markets? these extreme views mirror similar debates in other areas. while i will leave it to those better qualified than me to provide commentary i can’t help suspecting that the city will continue to do well inside or out, provided that it continues to provide and develop its existing expertise.
how would the law of the land be affected by a brexit? looking firstly at justdivorce.co.uk, a divorce petition can only be issued in england and wales if the courts of those countries have jurisdiction to accept the proceedings. at present the definition of jurisdiction is provided by an eu regulation usually referred to as brussels ii revised, which sets out a specific exclusive set of circumstances which will bestow jurisdiction. for more information visit https://www.justdivorce.co.uk/jurisdiction. these definitions work well enough, although there are one or two which i have always found a little confusing. i suppose if we leave the eu we may revert to the common law doctrine of “forum conveniens” to establish jurisdiction, a test which would introduce greater discretion on the part of the court but therefore greater scope for legal arguments and uncertainty.
one eu rule we could gladly get rid of on brexit is that stating that the eu country where the first divorce petition is validly issued will retain jurisdiction regardless of the parties’ links with any other country. this rule was intended to give certainty, and does succeed in doing so. however, it is disliked by most family lawyers since it encourages parties to rush off and serve the first petition in secret for tactical reasons, rather than encouraging a spirit of cooperation.
other eu directives and regulations seek to break down national borders in relation to the rule of law, for example by providing that certain court judgments in 1 member state are directly enforceable in all other eu countries. this is a worthy project, but such provisions tend to be complex and difficult to understand even for lawyers (or maybe it’s just me). as the brexit campaigners would be quick to point out, there are various examples of treaties that work well on a world wide scale independently of the eu, such as the hague convention. i am not going to open the can of worms that is the much maligned human rights act!
personally i tend to feel we need to look outwards rather than inwards in the modern world and there is nothing i dislike more than the daily mail view on life in general. but then again i would also ban the monarchy, despite the present admirable incumbent. remember the duchess of york? i suppose at present i am leaning towards remain, but i am not finally decided. i would certainly tend to oppose anything supported by ukip, boris johnson and iain duncan smith, but then that puts me onside with david cameron and theresa may. i do have concerns about the eurozone and a federal europe, and wonder how the uk would be affected if/when the euro experiment fails and possibly plunges the whole european project into turmoil. on the other hand, it feels easier to predict how things will go if we stay in, and in truth i am sure nobody really knows what will happen if we jump ship. we are constantly being told that we are the 5th largest economy in the world and if that is right (is it? does that really go hand in hand with austerity?) then presumably this is evidence that eu membership is working for us.
one suspects that people will vote finally with their un-informed hearts rather than their statistics bombarded heads, based on sovereignty (why should those un-elected foreigners make our laws for us far away in brussels) and immigration (they come over here taking our jobs etc etc). if so, then it is arguable that by calling the referendum david cameron has undermined our whole democratic process and that the crucial issue of eu membership should be decided by our elected representatives in parliament and not by the great un-washed.
whatever the outcome justdivorce.co.uk will continue to provide its various online services, adapted as required to cope with any future changes in the law. in the meantime, do let me know if you want me to sign a joint letter to the times. it’s bryan with a y.
I still remember the nail biting flicker of hope gary lineker gave us when he pulled one back against argentina in 1986 after maradonna’s infamous hand of god goal (which he should have been banned for afterwards). I also regard him as an amusing and polished link man on motd, and as an ex Leicester city player it has been an incredible season for him. he seems less lucky in love however and has recently been through a 2nd divorce, taking the opportunity to have a gratuitous swipe at family lawyers in the process during an interview with the radio times. he accused divorce lawyers of running up legal costs and encouraging acrimony between the parties, a common perception amongst the public at large. i suppose it’s fair enough for him to tackle this subject, although to my knowledge it’s the only tackle he ever made.
I am the first to acknowledge that there are too many lawyers out there for comfort who should not be allowed anywhere near a divorce case and who do great harm to the divorcing couple by adopting an aggressive and arrogant attitude. I know this because I and my clients have the misfortune to deal with them on a regular basis. there are also firms of solicitors who are well known for an aggressive house style and indeed trade on it, typically describing themselves in website code as “robust” or “determined”. high net worth clients in particular seem attracted to these firms. the fact is that whilst clients do not always get the spouse they thought they were marrying, they usually do get their lawyer of choice. there are many divorcees out there who fall over themselves to employ a Rottweiler lawyer to “milk him for every penny” or “make sure she gets nothing”.
sweeping generalisations are usually unfair however, and my view after nearly 40 years in practice is that most family lawyers are reasonable people who work hard for fair outcomes and actually care about their clients. gary lineker should look at the resolution website (resolution.org.uk) for an obvious example of this conciliatory approach and he may then conclude that he has scored an own goal.
his solution for his inherent mistrust of lawyers was apparently to obtain his divorce through a government website for £400, although I am not clear as to whether this website dealt with the divorce alone or also enabled the linekers to sort out their finances on top. this blog has reported previous difficulties experienced by government in delivering legal services online, although in my view that should not deter them from going down this path given proper funding (see eg postings of january and march 2016).
the legal services board has recently published a report confirming the prices charged for divorce, concluding that there is often a significant variation in the price that consumers pay for the same service. the report found that fixed fees were widely available for many types of legal work, even quite complex cases. this development is not surprising given many clients’ understandable dislike of hourly rate based charges, which at worst can seem to reward incompetence. the average charge for acting for a petitioner on a divorce alone (ie not including any children or financial issues) was found to be £722, presumably not including the whopping court fee for issuing a petition of £550.
this mean average shows the justdivorce.co.uk undefended divorce fixed fee service of £269 to be very competitive. admittedly our service enables our clients to deal with the divorce themselves as litigants in person rather than us doing it all for them as solicitors on the court record, but all they have to do is print off the forms and letters we prepare for them and post them to the court. no penalties and no extra time!
there are few headlines newspapers love running more than “fat cat lawyer does this/that/the other”. politicians adore any sound bite that gives them a chance to boast they will bash “fat cat laywers”, with one minister promising some years ago to make them squeal. then they get transferred to some other department and promise to bash teachers or doctors or taxidermists instead. any story about a bent lawyer is lapped up enthusiastically by the press and a common theme is often that lawyers are lazy, greedy, overpaid and/or dishonest. however, how does this over simplistic viewpoint impact on the fabric of our society? ok, sounds a bit heavy but bear with me for a moment.
of course there are some dishonest lawyers, who do a great deal of harm to the image of our profession and for example the solicitors’ regulation authority shut down 5 law firms this week alone for suspected dishonesty! there are some lazy lawyers and some greedy lawyers and some overpaid ones (not me, sadly), as with any other walk of life. however, is it helpful for various sections of the media and politicians to depict these dubious qualities as the norm for anyone who takes a law degree?
a charity called citizens advice thinks not.it recently prepared a report on the experience of people who represent themselves in family proceedings without a lawyer, known as litigants in person. it concluded, perhaps unsurprisingly, that litigants in person often achieve worse outcomes than represented parties due partly to the stress, responsibility and loneliness of going it alone. the report showed that 90% of self represented people found that the experience negatively affected their health, relationships, work and/or finances, sometimes resulting in job loss or debt. I suspect that many family lawyers battling with the court system might complain of similar symptoms! with hindsight, 70% of litigants in person thought they would have been better off with representation. well, I wouldn’t want to carry out my own heart transplant without a doctor somewhere at hand.
the charity concluded that the rise in the number of litigants in person was largely the result of recent cuts in eligibility for legal aid. absolutely. however, the report also said that some people chose to act alone because they either mistrusted lawyers or didn’t realise how much value they could bring to the table. another problem is lack of clear information about the services provided by lawyers and difficulty in comparing different firms as a result.
so to some extent family lawyers can give themselves a pat on the back, most of whom are well meaning, hard working and skilful professionals who want to help people solve problems in return for a decent salary. the legal profession has got better at making the law more accessible to “normal” people, for example by doing away with a lot of the old latin phrases and stuffy etiquette, although I still struggle to understand some of the convoluted legislation coming out of parliament even after 38 years in the field!
however, it’s not all good news. law firms can still seem unwelcoming and inaccessible, so that the idea of going to a lawyer is an intimidating thought for many people. also there is no doubt that lawyers are still expensive. people are understandably concerned by the cost involved in obtaining representation, especially where the lawyer is unable to say how much the process will cost due to charging by an hourly rate rather than a fixed price. it’s very difficult to predict the cost of a particular case because this can vary so much depending on how much work is involved, but clients hate hourly rates, just as I hate it when my plumber draws in his breath and asks “who did that botch job”.
law firms need to encourage potential clients by becoming more friendly and approachable, by providing appropriate free information to de-mystify the law, by being more flexible in how legal services are delivered, and where possible by offering fixed fees. many forward thinking firms are already well travelled down this path, and justdivorce.co.uk is (I like to think) a worthy contribution to this important journey from Josiah-lake gardiner.
hot off the press and like getting blood from a stone, news has just been squeezed out of the ministry of justice that the court fee on issue of a divorce petition is to rise from £410 to £550, a whopping 34% increase. even worse, the increase will apparently become effective next Monday 21 march, thereby effectively preventing people from getting their papers into court for issue before the deadline expires over the weekend. how can there be any possible justification for a government department to behave in such a secretive, non-communicative and non-consulting manner?
furthermore, how can there be any justification for this inflation-busting hike, given that the actual administrative cost of a divorce is estimated at about £270? £550 is a large amount of money for anyone, and a huge sum for many that might put them off applying for a divorce at all, thereby possibly stacking up all kinds of problems in the future for themselves, their spouses and any children of the family. it is more that double the price charged by www.justdivorce.co.uk for its online undefended divorce service.
can it be right that government should make a profit from the court system and the people who need to use it, often at a time of crisis in their lives? presumably this is another example of this administration providing “access to justice”. ho ho.
the services provided by justdivorce.co.uk are rightly described as “online”, although I’m not sure all our competitors can justifiably make the same claim. our clients complete an online questionnaire to get the ball rolling and then check draft court forms and letters by logging onto their personal online account. they receive emails to notify them when there are documents available to review on our website.
the bit we can’t control or improve is when communication is required with the court itself, which at present is still a paper based postal system. a divorce petition has to be lodged as a hard copy under cover of a letter, together with an original marriage certificate and a cheque or postal order for the court fee (currently £410). the court serves all documents on the parties by post. hence, no matter how slick and automated our end of the chain might be we still have to fall back onto traditional forms of communication at the court end, which can cause delays beyond our control.
according to sir james munby, the energetic president of the family division, this may be about to change. speaking recently at the family law bar association annual dinner (be thankful you weren’t invited) sir james announced that plans to digitise divorce proceedings could be implemented by early 2017. he said that a paperless court should be achievable within the next 4 years, rather than being a distant future vision. he envisaged a system apparently very similar to the bespoke software already used by justdivorce.co.uk, so the future has already arrived in this corner of the world wide web! I have also heard him speak on this subject and there is no doubting his vision and enthusiasm for this project, which may well carry the day. he is to be applauded for such forward and dynamic thinking.
sir james also referred to the growing problem of litigants in person representing themselves in court proceedings because they can’t afford a lawyer. this issue increasingly preoccupies judges who have to deal with the fallout in family cases at the coal face, which can often be highly emotionally charged. he thought that an online system should help such people, saying “In times of austerity, and faced with ever-increasing numbers of litigants in person, we must constantly strive to improve, to streamline and to simplify the system”. this must be correct, if they get it right.
and there lies the rub. as with all IT systems, if it is to work correctly the project must be properly resourced and funded. the treasury will therefore need to be persuaded that the move to an online system will result in a significant saving for the justice ministry budget – this seems to be what drives most “Justice” initiatives these days, possibly sometimes at the expense of justice itself. unfortunately there has been a significant track record of government funded IT projects crashing and burning, for a variety of reasons.
at justdivorce.co.uk we will certainly be keeping a watch on these developments, not least because any such changes are bound to have an impact on the way we conduct our online business (and offline business via Josiah-lake gardiner). hopefully in a good way however, so bring it on!
in july 2015 the government launched a consultation regarding its intention to close 91 courts and tribunals, being one fifth of the total across england and wales. it has recently been confirmed that 86 courts will actually be closed over the next 2 years, now that the consultation period has finished.5 courts have been reprieved and plans have been modified in relation to 22 others in light of responses to the consultation. these closures inevitably mean that it will take longer for a significant number of people to get to court to attend hearings which usually have a very significant impact on their lives. at first blush one might think that taking such a step would make it more difficult for people to gain access to justice, which is after all a fundamental human right (sorry, daily mail readers). the more cynical amongst you might even think that this is in fact a treasury-driven cost cutting exercise designed to achieve political targets rather than to protect the rights of its citizens.
apparently not! justice minister shailesh vara accepted that local communities have strong allegiances to their local courts, but proudly pointed out that 97% of users would still be able to get to their required court within one hour by car after the closures take place. he explained that “changes to the estate are vital if we are to modernise a system which everybody accepts is unwieldy, inefficient, slow, expensive to maintain and unduly bureaucratic.” that seems to be rather a surprising admission from a captain of the ship, but it is certainly one that legal practitioners dealing with the courts on a daily basis would recognise. i don’t know the stats (help anyone?), but presumably there is a sizeable proportion of the population who do not own or have access to a car. this might be a bit of a surprise to a tory minister, and one recalls norman tebbit’s exhortation in the dark days of thatcher’s Britain for people to get on their bikes to go and find work. how simple! one wonders how long it will take non-car owners to get to court by public transport or on foot, or maybe it doesn’t matter.
as always, the situation is not entirely simple. mr vara stated that the doomed courts are used on average less than 2 days per week and if that is correct then there may be some rationale for closure other than straight cost cutting. however it is difficult not to be cynical about such initiatives, given for example that the recent savage cuts to legal aid eligibility were also described euphemistically as encouraging access to justice! in addition, court fees for issuing proceedings are rising very rapidly and for example the fee for issuing a divorce petition seems likely to increase shortly from £410 to a whopping £550.
of course those parties who are able to reach agreement on the grounds for their divorce would not have to go to court at all to get un-hitched. they could simply order the justdivorce.co.uk undefended divorce online service and get everything done by post for a transparent fixed price. they may even be able to get their finances sorted out the same way if everything is simple and agreed. now that’s what I call access to justice!
this blog is particularly for the information of anyone who completed a form E (financial disclosure form) in divorce proceedings between april 2014 and December 2015 or april 2011 and January 2012, using the online form published on the hmcts website (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-courts-and-tribunals-service). my source is a written statement to parliament by shailesh vara mp and the ministry of justice on 21 January. the statement confirms that just before xmas 2015 an error was discovered in the online version of the form e on the site. as a result, the automatic calculator used to populate the form wrongly calculated the total of the individual’s net assets by failing to deduct certain liabilities. the fault was corrected on 14 December 2015, but unfortunately the problem doesn’t end there.
form e is a very important document in financial remedy proceedings ie an application for financial orders within divorce or civil dissolution proceedings.(for more information see https://www.justdivorce.co.uk/financial-clean-break). it is completed by parties to make disclosure of their income, assets, debts etc and the court cannot decide how to divide the pot fairly until it first identifies how big the cake is. the error in the online form means that the court (or the parties themselves if they negotiated their own agreement) was using incorrect figures when reaching it’s decision, and therefore the outcome may have been unfair. mr vara did fairly point out however that this may not inevitably be true in every case, as various factors are considered by the court in addition to the bare financial figures.
hmcts staff have been able to identify 3,638 files where the faulty form e was used, resulting in incorrect figures being produced and relied upon by the court and/or the parties to the proceedings. about 1,400 of these cases are still live, and hmcts has been able to notify the court in each case of the problem so that the figures can be corrected before a final decision has been reached. this may however result in additional legal costs for the affected parties and one wonders if compensation will be offered to those who suffer detriment by relying on the hmcts website in good faith.
this leaves 2,235 cases which are closed and in which incorrect figures may have been relied upon to provide unfair outcomes. I understand that hmcts is writing to all these parties notifying them of this problem and explaining the possible options which may be available to them, such as applying to the court to vary or set aside any order granted. a new form has been created to provide for such applications and the usual court fee will be waived. all this is helpful, but it may be difficult for litigants in person to make an application of this nature and I have not seen any offer by hmcts to reimburse to parties their legal expenses. don’t hold your breath.
there is also a dedicated email address to contact for people who believe they may have been affected by this error, being formE@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk.
I should add that we do not generate form e at justdivorce.co.uk, because our financial clean break order service relies upon the full consent and cooperation of the parties and therefore form E is not required. of course we do everything we can to keep all our online forms fully up to date and I am confident as i write that they are all completely accurate. however, it would be helpful if practitioners could be given a little more notice of changes in court forms!
as the law has stood in england and wales since 1973, if a husband and wife have not already been separated for at least 2 years then neither of them can get a divorce except by making allegations of bad behaviour or adultery. the reasoning behind this is that the institution of marriage would be fatally undermined if divorce is made too easy and so parties should have to show fault before bringing their marriage to an end. making it difficult to get divorced is also seen as benefitting any children of the relationship, although this is apparently contradicted by recent research from resolution (www.resolution.org.uk) showing that 8 out of 10 children would prefer their parents to split up if they are unhappy. hence there has always been strong opposition to attempts to introduce “no fault divorce”, where the parties can end their marriage by mutual agreement without having to prove misconduct. the sabotage of the family law act 1996 is a typical example of this conflict, illustrating the strength of the religious lobby in the house of lords (an un-elected body, incidentally).
on the face of it this approach may seem logical, but family lawyers are familiar with the practical difficulties it raises at the coal face every day. the requirement to make allegations of bad behaviour immediately risks raising the temperature unnecessarily. it also actively encourages the divorcing couple to adopt unreasonable and aggressive positions from the start, which in turn can polarise attitudes and create conflict where none existed before. this can increase legal costs dramatically and foster acrimony and delay. how can that possibly bolster the institution of marriage, or help children caught up in family breakdown?
family law is a specialist area of legal practice requiring a different mind-set to other forms of litigation. a good family lawyer will always work to reduce conflict in accordance with the resolution code of conduct and will do everything possible to keep the family out of court altogether, for example by considering alternative forms of dispute resolution such as mediation. indeed we are just coming to the end of family dispute resolution week, with that specific objective in mind. there are legitimate ways and means of achieving a consensual divorce even under the law as it currently stands, if both parties and their lawyers where instructed adopt a sensible and conciliatory approach. see for example https://www.justdivorce.co.uk/unreasonable-behaviour. however, there are still far too many lawyers out there with the old aggressive approach, who often fan the flames and raise emotions rather than taking the heat out of the situation. this attitude can have a terrible impact on divorcing couples, at great personal and financial cost to the parties and their children. in my view these lawyers rarely do this cynically to run up legal costs – they are just naturally adversarial, and usually the ones who won’t speak on the phone.
fortunately there now seems to be a fresh momentum for no fault divorce, again spearheaded by resolution. last month a no fault divorce bill introduced into the commons by mp for south norfolk richard bacon was passed for a 2nd reading despite attracting predictably stiff opposition from conservative mp sir edward leigh. mr bacon contended that his bill would not actually make divorce easier, but would remove the need for divorcing couples to throw mud at each other. he pointed out that one can already get a quickie divorce in 5 months, although in fact it could be even faster than that in a simple case. mr bacon proposed that the divorce process should be lengthened to maybe a year, to counter any suggestion that no fault divorce would make it easier to get un-hitched.
personally I am sure that the no-fault route is the way to go, even if it means re-drafting our wonderful undefended divorce online service or even putting us out of business! I am not at all so sure however that introducing a one year delay in the process is a good idea. delay tends to be a bad thing generally in family cases, especially where children are involved. it may be better to focus on how the parties will come out of the process the other side, for example by helping the parties to become single parents. it will be interesting to see where we go from here.
as clients of justdivorce.co.uk will know, the present fee paid by a petitioner (the person issuing a divorce petition) to the court service to process a divorce or civil dissolution is £410. this fee is paid upfront when the divorce petition is sent to the court for issue and for most people it’s a significant chunk of money. the last increase was in july 2013, just over 2 years ago. worryingly, the ministry of justice (moj) has recently announced a consultation and review of court fees across the board, including the family court. i say worryingly because in other areas of law there were increases only 6 months ago of 600%!
the proposal on offer is to raise the existing fee for issuing a divorce petition from £410 to £550, a whopping inflation busting increase of over a third. however, the law society reports that the moj’s own research suggests that the true administrative cost of dealing with a divorce petition is £270. coincidentally this equates almost exactly to the fee of £269 charged by justdivorce.co.uk for its undefended divorce service, although I suspect that we carry out significantly more work in delivering our online offering. on these figures government is proposing to make a profit of £280 on every divorce handled by the court service. it is worth noting that the service provided by the courts to its users can be variable, particularly at present while the new regional divorce centres are bedding in. see my previous blog of 3 july this year for more detail on that development. furthermore, yet more court fees are payable on top of the initial fee if the parties need a judge to deal with any children or financial issues arising within the divorce proceedings.
this statement of intent from our leaders raises 2 serious points. firstly, there must be a chance that a court fee of £550, possibly in addition to lawyer’s fees for professional advice, will put some people off the whole process completely for financial reasons, leaving them still married and in limbo when they should be getting themselves divorced. maybe this could also have a knock on effect on any children on the family?
secondly, government ministers have spoken a great deal in recent years about the importance of access to justice. yet at the same time they have taken drastic measures which seem designed to achieve exactly the opposite effect, for example by largely removing the availability of legal aid from areas such as family law and personal injury work. far more knowledgeable commentators than myself have been warning consistently of the wider consequences of these apparently cost cutting measures for society as a whole. it is disappointing when politicians retaliate with the easy but cheap shot that this is just another example of fat cat lawyers seeking to feather their own nests.
we all have to accept that we live in difficult times, and i can allow that our society just may not in future be able to afford what perhaps we once took for granted. however, the ability of individual citizens to go to court and obtain redress under the law of the land must be one of the most fundamental freedoms that we possess. it should be cherished wherever possible, not undermined.
can it possibly be right as a matter of principle for government to profit from the court fee system, thereby effectively taxing people who seek the protection of the law? the president of the law society and many others are adamant that it is not, and i agree with them.