Paying LiP service to justice
The Lord Chief Justice confirms that the Legal Aid cuts have significantly increased the number of LiPs in court.
In Issue 77 (May 2013) we considered the likely consequence of further cuts to the civil legal aid budget: there will be growing numbers of cases involving litigants in person (LiPs). We now have the Lord Chief Justice, when giving evidence to MPs, confirming that the cuts have ‘undoubtedly’ caused a significant increase in the number of LiPs in court.
Appearing before the Commons Justice Select Committee in April 2014, Sir John Thomas said that the number of people representing themselves in family courts has risen in the past year. Pressed by MPs on the effects of the legal aid cuts, Sir John conceded that there is now more pressure on the court system.
‘There is no doubt that [the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act] is having an effect on the bottom rung of civil work... The issue is particularly acute in family cases. If two people who have had a breakdown in their relationship are required to be adversarial parties, our system does not work very well. Most district judges are moving to swearing the parties in and conducting the case in a more inquisitorial manner.’
‘All my colleagues who do cases with litigants in person say it significantly added to the time [the case takes]. The saving you get by not having lawyers has to be counter-balanced by the increase you have to have in court time.’
Meanwhile, NAPO (a trade union and professional association whose members work in probation and family courts) has reported family court figures showing that before the legal aid cuts came in (April 2013), 18% of cases began with neither party represented and 82% of cases began with one or both parties having legal representation. By December 2013, the position was that only 4% of cases had both parties represented and in 42% of cases both parties were LiPs.