Litigants in person - a hole left by legal aid cuts

Since the April 2013 cuts in legal aid, a worrying trend has arisen.

In an attempt to cut costs, people are representing themselves in court. Whilst this was a foreseeable impact of the cuts, the volume of ‘litigant in person’ cases has exceeded even the government’s expectations.

Something needs to be done

Justice Minister Simon Hughes recently told the Liberal Democrat party conference that something needed to be done. A statement echoed around the boardrooms of many law firms since the cuts were announced.

Just what the government’s proposed solution might be is still to be seen. It may be a combination of widening the net on what is regarded as a ‘deserving case’ for public funding, and offering more practical support for those, particularly in civil and family cases, who do not have access to a lawyer.

These vague promises to overturn the problems created by the legal aid cuts do not change the fact that the court system was designed and created for lawyers, and trying to make it accessible to the general public is very difficult, particularly as an afterthought.

Difficulties in court

The difficulties litigants in person (LiPs) face in court has led to further delays at great expense to the public. This is completely at odds with what the cuts were seeking to achieve.

Never mind the huge disadvantage LiPs face in their cases by not knowing the court system, the stress felt, and the time spent in bringing their case. A few may be successful, but at what cost?

Genuine cases not pursued

Unsurprisingly this increasing trend is also coupled with a decrease in family and civil cases. It seems that the legal aid cuts have created few winners and many people with a genuine case to bring choose not to pursue it.

So, we will wait with baited breath to see what the Government comes up with. But we cannot help but suspect the current problems will never be properly addressed.

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