Early legal advice

Early legal advice helps address problems before they escalate and can prevent cases going to court unnecessarily. We’re campaigning for legal aid to be reintroduced for early legal advice, particularly in family and housing law.
Asian couple meeting with solicitor at home, two children play in the background

We’ve welcomed news that the UK government has listened to our concerns and decided to abandon mandatory mediation for separating couples, but instead pilot early legal advice.

The government has pledged to:

  • not make mediation mandatory for separating couples
  • launch a new pilot on legal advice that is specifically designed for parents/carers facing challenges when agreeing their child arrangements
  • extend its private law Pathfinder pilot* to south-east Wales and Birmingham and roll it out to all courts nationally

Read the government’s proposed family mediation reforms in full

The problem

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) introduced funding cuts to legal aid, meaning fewer people can access free legal advice.

Since 2012, legal aid has no longer been available for early advice, including housing and family law.

Without legal aid for early advice, legal problems can escalate unnecessarily and cause issues such as poor health, debt and homelessness.

As a result of escalating legal problems, a lack of early legal advice can increase taxpayer costs and the burden on the courts.

Backlogs in the courts mean that children who’ve been removed from their parents by the state are having to wait an average of 46 weeks to get a final decision on where they will live, according to data from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).

See the Cafcass data

Our view

We believe the government should reintroduce legal aid for early advice from a lawyer for family law cases to help parents better understand their rights and their options for resolving issues involving children.

Law Society vice president Richard Atkinson said: “We are pleased the government will be using early legal advice to ensure families get the justice that’s right for them, whether it’s mediation, litigation or non-court dispute resolution. Having the conversation early could mean a dispute is settled sooner.”

Richard Atkinson concluded: “The family court system continues to face an uphill battle, with backlogs and delays still prevalent, but we hope these new reforms will go some way towards alleviating the stresses for families seeking justice.”

What this means for solicitors

“The entire family courts system is creaking after years of austerity cuts and neglect,” said Cris McCurley, a member of our Access to Justice Committee.

“As a practitioner it is heartbreaking to have to deal with the consequences of this and I worry about the effect on children, some of whom have not seen their primary carer parent for more than three years. There needs to be investment in the system, now.”

In the meantime, we've come up with some fresh ideas for practical, affordable changes to our civil justice system that will enhance access to justice and could save the system £72 million over a five-year period.

Explore our ideas for a justice system fit for the 21st century

Campaign highlights

Get involved

To raise awareness of our campaign, you can tweet us using the #earlyadvice hashtag.

If you’re an MP, you can:

  • write to the lord chancellor to call on the government to reintroduce legal aid for early advice in housing and family cases
  • table parliamentary questions to gather evidence of the benefits of reintroducing legal aid for early advice in housing and family cases

For more information, email campaigns@lawsociety.org.uk.

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