As we move into June I am reminded of a letter I wrote to Jonathan Djanogly on 8 June last year, which has so far gone unacknowledged. It read:
Dear Mr Djanogly,
Family Courts without a Lawyer – A Handbook for Litigants in Person
I am pleased to enclose with this letter a copy of my recently published book, the subject matter of which I hope you will find of interest.
I am a family barrister, working daily with families experiencing relationship breakdown and working through its consequences. As such, I am aware of the practical, legal and emotional complexities that such cases can often involve.
You will see from my book that I am supportive of attempts to divert separated couples from the court arena, but I know from experience that mediation and other forms of ADR will not work in a core of cases. Those that cannot be successfully resolved by mediation or agreement will, by their very nature, be more likely to be precisely the kind of disputes that would be most efficiently and most fairly dealt with through the support and guidance of competent legal specialists.
A high proportion of my clients have within their own personal history or within their immediate family a background of alcohol or substance abuse, domestic abuse or dysfunctional family relationships, learning disabilities or mental health problems or neglectful or abusive childhood experiences that have affected their adult functioning. I am very concerned about the prospect of many individuals like those I represent having to deal with their family difficulties in future without the benefit of skilled legal advice and representation.
I have been so concerned about the potential injustices that may be caused to parents and to their children in the absence of competent legal advice and representation for family cases that I have written this book. A miscarriage of justice for a parent may have a lifelong impact on the children, indeed it may have intergenerational consequences (with all the associated cost to the public purse).
Whilst I hope that my book will ameliorate some of the difficulties faced by Litigants in Person, and that it will help to reduce the disadvantages faced by them, I do not think that it is an adequate substitute for legal advice and representation, nor do I think that in itself tools such as my book can be a proxy for the Government fulfilling its duty to provide access to justice. Many of my clients have very low levels of educational attainment, struggle with literacy or language and may struggle to cope because of poor mental health or stress. My book would not help them. It will help a limited number of reasonably educated, emotionally stable individuals to lessen (but not remove) the obstacles they face in the event that they find themselves with no alternative but to ask the court for help.
I hope that you and colleagues at the Ministry of Justice will reflect upon the contents of my book and the quantity of information contained in it: it merely skims the surface of family law and the operation of the family courts. Bearing in mind the sheer scale of the task faced by Litigants in Person in trying to grapple with these issues whilst in the midst of the most traumatic time of their lives, do you really believe that access to justice can be preserved in the event that the Government implements the proposals contained in the Legal Aid Green Paper?
I should be happy to hear any feedback on the publication or in respect of my comments.
Now I know that Mr Djanogly thinks that 52 weeks is an unacceptably long delay, because he is always telling us so. I am therefore confident that by close of business on Friday his response will be with me (along with his bulk order).
ROFL, as they say.