The Bristol Family Law Scheme was established in 2015. It is made up of volunteers from local solicitors firms and chambers; there are about 30 volunteers on the current rota. Administrative support is provided by the PSU at the Bristol Civil Justice Centre. The scheme used to run weekly but now runs fortnightly due to pressure on the volunteers. There are 7 slots available from 10am – 4pm for 30 minutes each.
The scheme is directed at private law proceedings only – i.e disputes between parents about how they spend time with their children post separation.
Each volunteer was asked to complete a form detailing the type of issues raised by each client.
I have been able to analyse the forms for 57 sessions between 5th November 2015 and 28th September 2017, involving 246 people, thus averaging about 4 per session.
What follows can only be a rough and ready statistical analysis – clearly volunteers did not complete forms for each session and there are indications that it wasn’t always easy to identify a category of presenting issue. But this gives a rough idea of what are the pressing matters for those who seek to use the scheme.
|English as a second language||65 26%|
|Likely to be in person||199 80%|
|Mental health problems||36 14%|
|Substance abuse||39 16%|
|Learning difficulties or literacy problems||31 13%|
|Immigration difficulties||13 5%|
|Child abduction||14 5%|
|Violence or sexual abuse of adult or child||130 53%|
|Previous proceedings||91 37%|
|Leave to remove||17 7%|
|Current criminal proceedings||10 4%|
|Reference to other agencies||42 17%|
Some comments on the statistics
Unsurprisingly 80% of those attending were likely to be self representing at any future hearings. What leaps out is that a quarter of all clients did not have English as their main language and over half were describing issues of physical or sexual violence directed at either adults or children in their proceedings.
Interestingly 37% of the clients had been involved in previous proceedings which supports my view that the court is not likely to be the best arena to resolve adult difficulties around child arrangement orders.
On average, only 4 out of the 7 slots were filled at each session. This appears primarily due to clients who book a session but simply don’t attend and the reasons for that are not known.
It appears clear that the scheme meets a need for local people who are unrepresented in family proceedings. Whether or not such short advice sessions can make much realistic positive long term impact in proceedings involving such serious issues is another question and one beyond my attempts here at statistical analysis.
Family Court Information website
Every client is provided with a letter providing the address of the Family Court information website
Web site statistics show from 10 months between July 2017 and April 2018 104,890 users and 138,125 sessions. Interestingly only 2.3% of those users (2,585) were accessing the site from Bristol – a staggering 27% (29,934) were accessing the site from London. People in every major city were accessing the site and the bounce rate was a reasonable 69% – i.e. people weren’t simply leaving the site after visiting one page.
This suggests that there is considerable appetite country wide for this kind of information and a need for each local court centre to have its own online source of information.