The Budget announcement yesterday wasn’t especially dazzling news in the family law arena.
Chancellor Philip Hammond restated that the Ministry of Justice (the government department responsible for protecting and advancing the principles of legal justice) will have to make £600 million in savings by the end of 2020. The government did announce that it would review Legal Aid, but it did not go as far as its promises to increase spending in areas like health, defence and education. Overall, we’re expecting to see the financial squeeze on our legal system continue.
That squeeze will continue to have an impact on our family law clients. It was only last year when the Ministry of Justice announced the closure of 86 Courts across England and Wales. The news of further cuts will only continue to increase the pressure on an already strained service. The cuts come at a time when our clients are telling us that they want to have access to justice quickly. Clients want their Court applications heard by a judge immediately. They want to receive their Court orders without administrative delay.
Ultimately, our clients are the Court users. Whether they are paying for a public or private service, they are ever more expectant of a good, timely service. When we have to explain to them the weeks or months that they will be waiting for a response from the Court, it often isn’t the news they want to hear.
We know the Ministry of Justice has recently put in place significant reforms to improve the Court service. We have first-hand experience of the efforts made by Court staff, from clerks to judges and beyond, who are striving to bring greater efficiency to the Court system, make it more modern, and fit for the user. The question is, will the reduction in funding assist those improvements or not? Time will tell.