Lack of Legal Aid forces parents to defend themselves in Court
A recent report in The Independent highlights an issue that is concerning anybody going through court. Recent cuts in legal aid are forcing more and more people to become 'litigants in person' or LIP, as the court acronyms describe them. This issue is having a big impact in all aspects of Court life where Legal Aid is not available.
One major issue with LIPs taking their own case to Court is that, while Judges and barristers are often happy to make allowances and explain issues, especially of procedure, they are powerless to act if errors are made, for example in how evidence is presented.
High court Judge Mister Justice Holman did a good job of summing up the difficulties judges when trying to rule in these disputes:
"I have no legal representation…no expert evidence of any kind. I do not even have such basic materials as an orderly bundle of the relevant documents; a chronology; case summaries and still less, any kind of skeleton argument. Instead, I have had to rummage through the admittedly slim court file. I shall do my best to reach a fair and just outcome, but I am the first to acknowledge that I am doing little more than 'rough justice'”.
Of more concern to us is the fact that, lacking a barrister acting as intermediary, a growing number of domestic violence victims find themselves having to answer questions posed to them by their former partner. Talking to the Spectator, Emma Pearmaine, a family law specialist at Simpson Millar and director of the Leeds Law Society, said: "The number of women being cross-examined by abusive ex-partners in court has doubled in my experience since 2013. Judges do their best to step in and control cross-examination situations where it is a case for an injunction, or non-molestation order, for example, but they should be there to adjudicate on the case – not manage behaviour as a priority."
The Ministry of Justice's Legal Aid Commission established an Exceptional Case Fund (ECF) which is supposed to help people such as domestic violence victims get access to free lawyers. However, from April to December 2013 only eight applications were granted for family law cases out of 617 applications.
The situation is also becoming a concern to Family Courts, where cases are now totally outside Legal Aid and many parents find themselves having to construct their cases without much knowledge or external help. While some support is available, for example from the Personal Support Service, an organisation providing advice and support to Litigants, their coverage is limited and many parents are finding themselves forced to put their own case in the formal environment of the Courts.
A good introduction to representing yourself in Court is in this article in The Guardian