The Interim Report of the ongoing Family Justice Review notes that,
“Adults find the system confusing and characterised by legalese whether they are involved in public or private law…In private law, it is difficult for adults to navigate the system on their own. Two anonymous respondents to the call for evidence highlight this. For one, “it is a minefield and not clear what the processes are. Forms are too complicated and lengthy”. Another notes simply, “a lay person is easily lost”…Proposed changes to legal aid, should they go ahead, will mean more people choosing to represent themselves as litigants in person. This complexity will, as a result, become an increasingly important weakness.” (2.45-2.47)
The Government is widely expected to publish a draft Legal Aid Bill in the next couple of weeks, with a view to implementing in large part the drastic cuts to the scope of Legal Aid referred to in the extract above, and foreshadowed in the Legal Aid Green Paper.
It seems highly likely that there will be more and more Litigants in Person dealing with their family disputes, and more and more Litigants in Person faced in court not by a lawyer, but by another Litigant in Person.
I started work on my book for Litigants in Person a couple of years ago. Even then there was a real issue to be tackled – the inability of many to afford or access legal representation presented a profound barrier to justice. In the past this has in large part been a problem for a category of person who is in work, but who as a result of a low income is neither eligible for legal aid nor wealthy enough to pay privately for legal help. In future, if the Government’s proposals are implemented nobody will be able to access legal aid for private law cases except in the most limited categories of case. It seems likely that only the very wealthy and those who have suffered domestic violence (or made an allegation of dv) will have the means to pursue their cases with the kind of legal advice and representation that they need to make the system work well for their family.
Finally the book is with the printers. It has been a lot more work than I envisaged. It is easy to take for granted all the knowledge that you build up over the years – but when you have to break it down and explain it to someone who has never set foot inside a court building before you begin to realise how daunting it must be to be a Litigant in Person attempting to navigate the family courts alone.
I hope I’ve struck the right balance between covering the majority of things that are likely to be helpful to litigants and providing too much information, but I would welcome any suggestions for how the book and the resources within it could be improved upon. I’d love to hear whether the book has been helpful in due course.
You can find out more about the book and buy a copy of it at www.nofamilylawyer.co.uk.