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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

24 JUN 2014

Legal aid funding in family cases drops 60% year on year, according to report

Journals Manager + Online Editor

@matthia5mueller

Legal aid funding in family cases drops 60% year on year, according to report

The Ministry of Justice has published its annual report presenting the key statistics on activity in the legal aid system for England and Wales.

The annual legal aid statistics bulletin presents statistics on the information collected on each legal aid scheme administered by the Legal Aid Agency. It covers the two areas of work, crime and civil, alongside timeliness, the appealing of decisions, information on providers of legal aid and lastly a view of the clients who have used legal aid in 2013 to 2014.

In 2013-14 the overall workload for legal aid consisted of over 1.8 million acts of assistance. The LAA spent just over £1.7 billion in 2013-14 on funding advice for criminal and civil legal matters. Of this, £0.9 billion was spent on criminal legal aid and around £0.8 billion was spent on civil legal aid.

Acts of assistance were at their highest in 2009-10. Since this peak the volume has fallen by just over 39%; within this reduction the criminal legal aid area has reduced by almost 14 per cent but the majority of the fall has come from the civil justice area which has reduced by almost two-thirds over this period.

There have been changes in the makeup of levels of service funded by civil legal aid. The volumes of new matters started for legal help have fallen by over 80 per cent between 2009-10 and 2013-14. The number of certificates granted for civil representation has fallen by 30 per cent between 2010-11 and 2013-14.

In 2013-14 there were large decreases across the civil legal aid area, driven by changes to the scope of legal aid as set out in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO).

Family law

The category of family legal aid covers work on both private and public law and includes work associated with the Children Act, domestic abuse, financial provision and family mediation. Figures for each category are not available for legal help matters.

In the last four years volumes in family law have been decreasing. However, in the last year there has been a 60 per cent drop compared to the year before. This change is likely to be driven by the change in scope for legal aid as a result of the LASPO Act. From the civil representation figures, the largest falls have been in private law Children’s Act proceedings (over 30,000 fewer certificates granted). This is consistent with the changes implemented under LASPO as legal aid is now only available for private family law cases if there is evidence of domestic violence or child abuse and for child abduction cases.

Despite large falls in other areas of the family workload, decreases in family public law have been much smaller. Family public cases are primarily driven by the issuing of proceedings by individual Local Authorities. These cases are non-means and merits tested, and LAA has no control over the volume of these cases.

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Mediation

The use of mediation has fallen in the last year (see figure 15), but this may be due to the reduction in scope of legal aid due to the LASPO Act and coincides with a fall in the total number of family cases. Whilst volumes have decreased, the last year has seen an increase in the proportion of assessments that then turn into mediation starts.

The number of full and partial agreements has also decreased, but in 2013-14 the proportion of those reaching agreements rose to 79 per cent of all mediation proceedings started. This is an increase compared to previous years where around two-thirds of those starting full mediation reached agreement without having to enter the court system.

Exceptional Case Funding

The majority of ECF applications (95 per cent, 1,440 applications) were received from a legal aid provider. Only five per cent (80 applications) were received directly from the client.

More than half of all applications (54 per cent) were family applications. A typical family application is in private family law proceedings. These may concern the right of contact with and residence of the applicant’s child or the division of matrimonial assets. The report shows that in 2013-14, from a total of 821 applications, only 9 were granted.

The full report is available to download here.

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