Divorce: Legal Opinion

Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 23rd December 2020.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what steps his Department is taking to promote access to early legal advice for divorcing couples.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment his Department has made of the effect of reductions in legal aid on access to professional or legal support for divorcing couples.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the potential effect of improved early access to professional advice for divorcing couples on conflict and the mental health of those involved.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the potential benefits to the (a) public purse and (b) court system of ensuring legal aid is accessible in family law cases.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the potential merits of improving early legal advice for divorcing couples to help reduce pressure on family courts.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

We spent £1.7bn in 2019 on Legal Aid to ensure vulnerable people have access to proportionate legal advice and support and that we minimise the burden on courts and tribunals.

Legal aid is available for private family matters where an applicant is a victim of, or at risk of being a victim of domestic abuse or child abuse, subject to the means and merits criteria. The Exceptional Case Funding scheme provides legal aid in cases which fall out of scope. It provides legal aid where without it there would be a breach, or risk of a breach of, human rights, subject to the statutory means and merits test.

But legal aid is only one part of a broader picture. As set out in our Legal Support Action plan, there are other forms of support that can help people overcome their problems, such as legal information, guidance and signposting so that everyone can access justice in a way that best meets their needs.

In April we also launched the new, two-year, £3.1m Legal Support for Litigants in Person Grant, which is designed to fund services provided at local, regional and national levels with the aim of understanding more about how they can combine to help people. This new grant funding is in addition to the more than £9m that the MoJ has invested in support for litigants in person since 2015 through our existing Litigants in Person Support Strategy.

Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service has established 17 Nightingale courts across England and Wales, providing 32 additional court rooms, and are recruiting more staff.

Judicial sitting days in the family court have been increased and approximately £3.5m additional funding has helped Cafcass increase staffing levels to respond to record levels of open cases.

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