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July 5, 2013

are the courts prepared for no lawyers?

There have been hundreds of people appearing in courts without a lawyer for a long time.  Due to reductions in legal aid, there are now thousands in the civil and family courts.  And if new proposals on criminal legal aid go through, there are likely to be thousands of people in the criminal courts struggling to represent themselves without the help of a lawyer.  Reading through the excellent new report from the judicial office http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Reports/lip_2013.pdf  one can’t help thinking that this is one area where the government really needs an overarching strategy.  I sense a frustration from the judiciary that the rest of government is not focusing on a potentially nightmare situation, which could slow down the courts considerably.  Throughout the document, actions are termed urgent, yet the government has known that the legal aid changes will increase litigants in person (LiPs) for at least a year.  So why the urgency now?  As the judiciary points out, many LiPs arrive in court pretty clueless, and could perhaps have been diverted from court action had they had the right help.  The judiciary says ” it is vital that HMCTS/MoJ direct sufficient work and resources towards ensuring that litigants in person have the information they need before they commence proceedings, before they are required to take any particular step in proceedings, and before they appear in front of a judge”.  Overall the report makes alarming reading, suggesting that LiPs are often disadvantaged by their lack of expertise.  Unless more help is given, it looks as if the court system is going to be both slower and less equal.