Earlier last year the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) released guidance* on their plans to transform the legal system in respect of several areas of law. For family law, and in particular private law cases (i.e. divorce and finance proceedings and child arrangement proceedings), proposals were put forward to digitalise and simplify the Court process. The MoJ have confirmed that this will be done through the provision of “more information which would enable people to make the right arrangements for themselves.”** . Although the details of their exact plans remain unclear this seems a promising development.
Interestingly, the MoJ’s position followed that of the President’s, who at the Family Law Bar Association’s Annual Dinner (2016) highlighted that “in times of austerity, and faced with ever-increasing numbers of litigants in person, we must constantly strive to improve, to streamline and to simplify the system.”^
With the other areas of legal technology advancing, these reforms are greatly welcomed. For many the family court can often be a complicated and protracted process, this being worsened by legal aid cuts which has resulted in a 30% increase in litigants in person^^.
Whilst it has been confirmed that the digitalised plans are not completely ready^^^, steps are being taken to improve and streamline the family courts, on an unprecedented level. For example issuing divorce proceedings on line and the increased use of e-bundles. The above, in conjunction with the current government’s recent confirmation of a legal aid review and Liz Truss’ upcoming review of domestic violence related cases may finally start to address the plight that many face which is at least one thing to be optimistic about in 2017.
*Ministry of Justice, Transforming Our Justice System, September 2016.
^The President’s Address at the Annual Dinner of the Family Law Bar Association, February 2016
^^Briefing Paper: Litigants in person: the rise of the self-represented litigant in civil and family cases. G.Grimwood, January 2016.
^^^Family law week article link : http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed175222