In the recent case of Tufail v Riaz (2013) EWCH 1829 (Fam) Mr Justice Holman, High Court Judge, has highlighted the effect of legal aid cuts on the legal system and the impact on the family court. The case concerned a contested divorce. The wife who was the Petitioner in the case was residing in Pakistan and unable to attend court. She had been previously represented by Solicitors but was unable to afford the on-going representation. Funding by way of legal aid assistance was not available to her. The Husband attended court. He was also unrepresented. In his judgement Mr Justice Holman said
“In the present case, until recently, I would have expected to have had the assistance of experienced lawyers on each side and almost certainly expert evidence in relation to the proceedings in Pakistan which I will shortly describe. As it is, I have no legal representation and no expert evidence of any kind. I do not even have such basic materials as an orderly bundle of the relevant documents; a chronology; case summaries, and still less, any kind of skeleton argument. Instead, I have had to rummage through the admittedly slim court file, supplemented by various documents handed up to me by the respondent husband today and some material sent by the petitioner wife from Pakistan.”
The Husband claimed he had a valid divorce in Pakistan. Mr Justice Holman was unable to make a definite finding that the divorce obtained by the Husband was valid. He made no declaration as to the validity of the divorce however he stayed the English proceedings. He further stated
“I record that I began this case at 10.30 a.m. this morning and I am now concluding it around 3.30 p.m. It has, accordingly, effectively occupied the whole of the court day. By sheer good fortune, the other case which had been listed for hearing by me today was vacated yesterday for reasons connected with its readiness. If that case had not been vacated, I, and the litigants in that case, would have been faced with very considerable difficulties and a severe shortage of court time, and probably also additional expenditure to the parties in that case who, as likely as not, would have to have returned on another day.”
This case highlights the difficulties being experienced by the courts and Judges around the country following the significant reduction in the availability of legal aid funding since the government changes in April 2013. The number of litigants in person is only going to increase causing further difficulties.