How the problem originated:
The number of people attending the family courts without the assistance of a lawyer, also known as litigants in person, has risen steeply since April 2013 when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 took many civil and private law children and family cases out of scope for legal aid.
Since the 2013 changes, the National Audit Office has reported a 22% increase in cases involving contact with children (Children Act 1989 private law matters) and a 30% increase across all family court cases (including those that remain eligible for civil legal aid) in which neither party had legal representation.
Litigants in Person
Legal aid has effectively been restricted to those who have been the victims of domestic violence (within tightly restricted criteria). Family law solicitors have tried to address some of the problems caused by the sudden huge increase in the number of people who are unable to afford legal representation by offering pro-bono support through the likes of the local Citizen Advice Bureau (CAB) and also at their own offices. Unfortunately, such is the level of demand and limitations on what can be sensibly offered in terms of free time, that the number of people forced to represent themselves in the Courts continues to rise. These individuals are known as ‘Litigants in Person’.
The problem expands
The pitfalls of becoming a ‘Litigant in Person’ don’t just extend to the risk of making bad legal decisions. According to Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of the CAB
“The demands of going to court without legal representation can put people’s jobs and health at risk”
Of course, family law is not the only area of the law to suffer from the withdrawal or reduction of legal aid but if you wish to divorce you have no choice but to use the legal process. The issues and impact, therefore, tend to be more prominent than in other legal sectors. Many legal firms have withdrawn from providing services to legal aid clientele altogether, causing the emergence of ‘legal services deserts’ in many parts of England and Wales. Surrey has been identified as a county that has a particularly acute problem in the availability of legal aid services.
Are there any easy solutions to the whole situation? To be honest, no, without a restoration of access to legal aid. At rhw we have attempted to offer some solutions by launching a service for Litigants in Person where individuals can pick the areas of the legal process they need help with, all priced individually at a fixed fee rate. This allows those with restricted means to keep control and gain full transparency over their financial expenditure. Please have a look at our website via the link below to get further details on the Litigants in Person service. It’s not a perfect solution we know but it does mean that more people can access help on the trickier areas of family law.
If you need further assistance on this or any other Family Law matter please contact our Family Team via email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01483 302000. Alternatively please visit our Family Law pages for free articles.