The 1st April 2013 saw the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) come into force. Family law practitioners will no doubt by now be very familiar with Schedule 1, and Parts 1 and 2 of the Act, which define the scope of the work for public funding is still available. What will be interesting to observe, is how LASPO will impact upon ongoing and future cases.
One effect that has occurred, as it may have been expected, is the increase in private law applications that were made ahead of 1st April 2013. According to CAFCASS figures released yesterday, there was a 10% increase of cases between April 2012 to March 2013, in comparison to figures between 2011 to 2012. *
Another possible effect may be seen in the way pre April 2013 cases are handled during proceedings. Where a contact case for example, is going well and there appears to be ongoing agreement between the parties, practitioners may nevertheless feel the need to keep a case within the court arena for review. Judges may be keen to make final orders, but keeping the matter open for review would mean the client is still entitled to public funding should a dispute later arise and the matter needed to return to court. Taking this approach could see the average length of private law proceedings increase.
It will be interesting to monitor the trends post April 2013. The Cafcass Chief Executive Anthony Douglas, has said:
“Cafcass expects to see a drop in applications over the first few months of the 2013/14 financial year, following the changes. Based on patterns observed from previous policy changes within the family justice system, it is anticipated that levels will normalise after that.”**
Whether that prediction proves correct is yet to be seen. In any event whether it is as a result of an increase in litigants in person, or more review hearings, proceedings may start to take longer to conclude and if so, it will be important that the courts are in a position to bear the impact of such changes.
To sign a petition requesting the restoration of legal aid for private family law matters, click on the following link: