The experimental data the Ministry of Justice has just published this morning reveals a startling revelation about the impact of unrepresented parties in private family law cases (those dealing with divorce, contact and child maintenance in the main).

Despite everything we have heard post LASPO, it appears that unrepresented parties are not the ones causing delays in the family courts. In fact, the data suggests that lawyers are responsible for a small but sustained increase each quarter in hearing duration.

The overall result from the initial findings is that there is no strong evidence to suggest that Litigants in Person are responsible for increased court time, or even that the increase that is visible represents a significant change over time.

The main findings are added below:

  • No change in overall average (mean) hearing durations. There is
    some evidence that hearings where both parties are represented
    have increased in duration whilst hearings where neither party is
    represented have decreased in duration.
  • Directions hearings have increased in average (mean) duration
    across most representation types. Full hearings have decreased in
    average (mean) duration, particularly for hearings in which neither
    party were represented.
  • A substantial decrease in average hearings per case, though this
    appears to be part of a longer term trend.

So what can we make of these findings? Well, the MOJ has added several caveats to the data and has labelled it as ‘experimental’, which we think is an odd turn of phrase most likely designed to appease certain quarters, but it does indicate that delays inside the family courts are likely to be driven by professional parties, who at best may be trying to wade through a broken system, and at worst may be taking advantage of it and attempting to rack up more man hours in an industry where the opportunity to do so is rapidly dwindling.

And what of litigants in person and their role to play in the slowing down of the court process? We think it will become apparent as time goes on that LIPs are for the most part swept up inside the system and carried along by a relentless tide, not unlike thick magma making its way down a winding road.