Legal aid cuts have led to an alarming number of people having to represent themselves in family courts in the North East.
The proportion of unrepresented North East parents attending court to contest custody of their children and other family matters has leapt from 34% to 53% of litigants since the removal of legal aid from family lawyers in April 2013.
Between April and December 2012, 4,698 people represented themselves at North East courts for child-related proceedings.
In the same nine-month period for 2013, the figure jumped to 7,562. This is a year-on-year rise of 61%; the highest in England and already more than the previous year’s total of 6,502.
Publication of the Ministry of Justice figures, secured via a Freedom of Information request, has sparked a call among some of the region’s lawyers to keep warring parents away from the courts.
Seven law firms in Newcastle currently offer a fixed-fee service which offers couples a way of resolving disputes without the need to go to court.
Sue McArthur, a lawyer at Newcastle-based firm McKeag and Co, said: “The massive increase in people representing themselves is leading to huge delays at court as judges struggle to help people representing themselves understand the proceedings and what is happening.
“Often people find that decisions go against them because they’ve not been able to refer the judge to the relevant legal points of their case. They can end up getting too emotional or angry and not presenting their case in the best possible way.
“To respond to this crisis in representation the legal industry is having to completely rethink how best to serve clients.”
Marc Lopatin, founder of LawyerSupportedMediation.com said: “The answer is not putting lawyers back in the courtroom at the public’s expense. Instead, the government should be doing all it can to encourage lawyers and mediators to work in tandem. This is the only way to make available the support parents need at a price most can afford.”
But The Law Society – which represents solicitors in the UK – says removing solicitors from the process will have a knock-on effect on children whose parents are fighting in court.
Law Society president Nicholas Fluck said: “The legislation, which came into force last April, could easily cost more than it is intended to save.
“As well as all the knock-on costs to the tax payer and the social consequences of severely limiting access to legal aid, it is the couples fighting in court and their children who will be the worst hit.
“Removing solicitors from the process and cutting access to justice for people on low incomes is a devastating false economy.
“As we have also outlined to the Justice Select Committee, the reality is that solicitors steer separating couples away from the courts and towards alternatives such as mediation.
“The Law Society has previously suggested alternative savings that would make a bigger contribution to reducing the deficit by making the civil justice system more efficient, but the Government chose to ignore this.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 07 June 2014
The Arts Council has distributed more lottery funding to just five London institutions than the entire North East, a funding report today reveals.
Academics behind a new look at how lottery cash is spent on arts say that despite more households in the North of England playing the lottery than in London, regions outside the capital and the South East see nowhere near the same level of investment.
The report comes from the same team who last year revealed how London was soaking up Government arts cash.
Their latest study calls for a new model in how lottery cash is handed out.
In the North East, where some 56% of households play the lottery, the region has received £221m in lottery cash since 1995.
In London, where 32% of households play the lottery every week, some five groups alone – the Royal Opera House, the Royal National Theatre, English National Opera, Sadler’s Wells and the South Bank Centre – have received £315m.
Overall London has contributed £386m to Arts Council lottery cash, but has received back £1.1bn.
The report’s author’s last night said there was “no evidence supporting the claim that ‘lottery funding has traditionally been used to fund projects in areas of the country that lack established arts and culture infrastructure’. The evidence seems to point substantially in the opposite direction.”
The local authority area with the poorest return is County Durham, where lottery players have contributed £34m since 1995 while arts organisations there have received just £12m.
Former director of Northern Arts Peter Stark helped write the PLACE report.
Mr Stark, a chief adviser to Gateshead during its regeneration plans around the Baltic and the Sage, said that while it was clear that Tyneside had benefited from lottery cash, overall there was a need for a fairer funding model.
He said: “There is something fundamentally wrong in the use of lottery funding to prioritise existing organisation, in particular the largest ones when the point of the lottery was that it helps a much wider spread.”
He said that all areas could benefit if, as money taken away for the Olympics returns, there is a new funding model that reflects deprivation, availability of art and distance from London.
“London should have a larger share, but not to this extent,” Mr Stark said. “The Arts Council likes to say that if its fund was increased it could solve this problem, but it can’t just continue with this funding model.
“We are getting to a point where the money being redirected to organisations already receiving pretty substantial funds from the tax payer must lead to a pretty serious look at how we deal with lottery funding and the way in which we fund the arts in this country.”
Last night Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman said there was overwhelming evidence that the region’s were getting a bad deal. The shadow culture minister said: “The Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital report revealed the deeply unfair distribution of funding between London and the regions.
“This second report confirms that many citizens, particularly in the North East, aren’t getting access to what they have already paid for through taxation and Lottery tickets.
“Culture and the arts are a vital source of wellbeing and Labour is committed to achieving fair access for all, regardless of where people live or how wealthy they are.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 25 April 2014