The Ministry of Justice continues to make provision of £1.7 billion a year in legal aid and that a new Legal Support Action Plan has been announced which will ensure resources are available for those who need it most. Measures in the action plan include a new focus on the individual and early intervention, as well as greater support for those who need solutions to problems before they become entangled in the legal system. The action plan will allow for an additional £3 million to support those representing themselves through the court system.
I fully understand your concerns regarding the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 and I welcome the opportunity to provide some clarity. After passing on these concerns to the Justice team, Ministers have confirmed that there will be a full consultation on these fee changes before anything is finalised next year. This is very welcome and will ensure views and opinions are heard.
It is also the case that the new, increased fee structure has been under consideration for a while and reflects the digitalisation of the tribunal system. It is important to remember that this has allowed justice to continue during the current pandemic.
It is vital to consider that these are temporary changes. Immigration and asylum practitioners have been contacted regularly and Ministers will continue to engage through the full consultation on what should replace them by June 2021.
You may be pleased to know that new fee structure will result in practitioners being paid substantially more for their work per hearing than they are currently. Fees have increased from £227 for no hearing and £567 for a hearing to £627 for both.
Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill
The end of a marriage is an extremely painful time for any couple. When a relationship ends, it cannot be right for the law to introduce or exacerbate conflict between divorcing couples. Currently, couples have an incentive to blame each other for the end of marriage based on ‘unreasonable behaviour’, adultery or desertion unless they can wait to divorce on the basis of separation for a minimum of two years, even if the separation is mutual. If one spouse objects to the divorce then the other spouse must wait five years before seeking a divorce.
As you may be aware, the Government has announced proposals which would mean that the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage will remain the sole ground for divorce. At the same time, the new proposals would remove the need to show evidence of the other spouse’s conduct, or a period of living apart. A new notification process would be introduced to allow one, or possibly both parties, to notify the court of the intention to divorce. Finally, the proposals would remove the opportunity for the other spouse to contest the divorce, which serves no practical purpose.
Removing the requirements to allege fault or show evidence of separation would promote a less acrimonious process, helping families look to the future.