As I'm sure the reader is now aware, the Government has published its Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales, and they do not make good reading for anyone with an interest in access to family justice. In particular, it is proposed that there will be no legal aid for ancillary relief or private law children matters, save where there is domestic violence.
It seems that the Government has listened to the crass Daily Mail-esque Why should taxpayers' money be used for someone to get divorced just because they don't want to work at their marriage? brigade. That, unfortunately, is a cruel over-simplification. Most people do not want their marriages to fail, and they do not want to have to rely on the state for funding to sort out the mess when they do fail. It is just a position that they find themselves in - no one wants to go to the courts. To illustrate, I will give a not untypical example:
Sandra Clarke had been married for twenty-five years. She had three children, the youngest of which had just finished education. Throughout the marriage she stayed at home and brought up the children. As a result, she has no career, and just works part-time as a school dinner lady. Her husband Ken, on the other hand, runs a business that Sandra believes is doing very well, although she has no knowledge of the running of the business.
Sandra thought that life was good, but then came a bolt from the blue when Ken announced that he had formed a relationship with another woman, and that he wanted a divorce. From there, Ken began to get increasingly nasty: he refused to give Sandra any maintenance, he refused to go to mediation, and he refused to make full disclosure of his finances (Sandra was sure he was hiding substantial sums of money).
Then Sandra started getting threatening letters from Ken's solicitor. Sandra is at her wit's end; she doesn't know what to do, she can't afford a lawyer, and she is scared for her future.