Categorized | Civil Law, Legal Aid

Crisis in the civil courts

Crisis in the civil courts

As justices of the supreme court express fears that legal aid cuts will cause a courts logjam, a Manifesto for Family Justice has been published by an alliance of organisations which represents the rights and needs of women, children, families and victims of domestic abuse.

In a special report on the workings of the supreme court, the ‘Guardian’ outlined the concerns of some of the justices. Lord Hope, deputy president of the supreme court, said that as a product of the absence of legal aid the court of appeal is being deluged by litigants in person, which creates a logjam in itself. Lord Dyson, another supreme court judge, said he was very worried about access to justice for those who wanted to take judicial reviews or challenge tribunals. He added: “There are some very good litigants in person but there are an awful lot who, understandably, don’t know what they are doing. They feel frustrated, angry. They are not lawyers. They take masses of bad points. They waste a lot of the court’s time. And it’s a growing trend.” Lord Mance said that he couldn’t comment on the particular governmental policy, but added: “One way or other, we have to take very seriously the question of access to justice.” Lady Hale, the only woman justice in the supreme court, said that the judges worry about the extent to which denying people access to legal representation and legal advice will “change radically the role of the court in seeking to do justice.”
In its manifesto, sent to all MPs, the alliance of organisations has called upon the Government to protect vulnerable women and children; to listen to the experienced practitioners who work in family justice and who understand that mediation will not resolve a significant number of cases; and to consider with care whether the decision to remove legal aid from private family law cases will save the Government money or, in fact, cost more and lead to poor outcomes.

The chairman of the Family Law Bar Association, Stephen Cobb QC, said: “We have come together as a broad cross section of organisations deeply concerned by the consequences of the government’s proposals. The civil legal aid cuts will be bad for children, bad for women and bad for families. We are facing a disturbing new landscape in which 600,000 people will no longer receive legal aid, 68,000 children will be affected by the removal of legal aid in family cases, 54,000 fewer people will be represented in the family courts annually and 75% of existing private family law cases will no longer attract legal aid. We face the very real prospect that many children and women who have been victims of domestic abuse will have to endure the further trauma of being cross-examined by their alleged perpetrator, who will not be eligible for legal aid.”
The manifesto criticises the narrow definition of domestic abuse used in the bill, which will limit legal aid to victims of certain types of abuse. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said women and children were “bearing the brunt of this government’s actions.” She added: “Denying victims of domestic violence legal support, or increasingly making victims endure cross-examination by their assailants, will remove the vital protection many vulnerable women depend upon.”

The alliance comprises the Association of Lawyers for Children, the Bar Council, Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse, the Children’s Commissioner, the Family Law Bar Association, Gingerbread, Liberty, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, Resolution and Women’s Aid.

The legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill, which will save £350m a year from the legal aid budget, has completed its committee stage in the Commons and will be debated on the floor of the house next week.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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