Repairing the Damage Caused by the Slashing of Legal Aid
In the years following legal aid cuts we've seen an ongoing increase in the number of people choosing to represent themselves and litigate in person in family law disputes. This is usually a recourse for people who can no longer afford legal support or are looking to save money
Unfortunately, the reality of needing to litigate in person is not straightforward and is causing major issues both for those needing justice and the courts handling these cases.
Trying to Deliver a Fair Outcome
Mr Justice Holman spoke out about the damaging effects of legal aid cuts in his judgment in Tufail v Riaz
, a divorce case:
"I have no legal representation and no expert evidence of any kind. I do not even have such basic materials as an orderly bundle of the relevant documents… 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'."
Those choosing to represent themselves in family law cases often lack the legal knowledge to put forward a properly prepared case, which not only impacts on their case but also on the work of the courts.
Litigants in Person Pose a Challenge for Courts
More recently, Mr Justice Mostyn has also chosen to speak out against litigants in person who are not just unprepared, but outright damaging to the court process. The family judge decided to waive a married couple's right to privacy in a divorce case in order to illustrate the challenges of working with "unrepresented and malevolent litigants". Veluppillai v Veluppillai
involved a wife's claim for ancillary relief and saw as many as 30 hearings
. The husband in the case has been criticised by Justice Mostyn for assaulting the wife's counsel in court, needing to be arrested by security staff and for bombarding the court with abusive emails after fleeing abroad.
Although in this case the litigant in person
was wealthy and would never have been eligible for legal aid, it shows the extent of the difficulties faced due to an increase in litigants in person.
Paul Foster, our Partner and Family Law Solicitor based in Bristol
"Whilst the judge decided to publicise this case because of the husband's appalling behaviour, this case also draws attention to some of the problems resulting from the reductions in legal aid and the huge increase in litigants in person which it caused. Family law is difficult at the best of times and particularly so if you are trying to understand it whilst going through the emotional hell of divorce."
Our Family Law Solutions
Fixed fees and access to justice schemes offered by Simpson Millar allow many people to get affordable quality advice
and go some way to repairing the damage caused by the slashing of legal aid.
If you are in need of legal advice
but are unsure as to how you can access this because of the legal aid cuts, get in touch with our family law
team to see how our flexible options could help.