The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has tacitly acknowledged the sharp growth in litigants in person (LiPs) in the civil and family courts by unveiling a £2m package of support aimed at keeping disputes away from court and supporting LiPs if they do get that far.
Among other things the funding will facilitate the expansion of the Personal Support Unit (PSU), the RCJ Advice Bureau, LawWorks and Law for Life: the Foundation for Public Legal Education.
This will means PSUs opened in more courts across England and Wales “to provide practical information and support including emotional support”, the MoJ said.
There will be additional LawWorks clinics to increase the supply of initial legal advice, work with the local legal professions and advice agencies, and with law schools where possible.
Further, advice will be made available by phone and e-mail to local and regional centres from RCJ Advice, together with information and materials produced through working with Law for Life and via Law for Life’s online Advicenow project.
Specifically for the family courts, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) is to pilot a new helpline to support separating parents in dispute “to test a more joined-up and tailored out-of-court service”.
As well as better online information, the final element is to ensure there is one named person in each court centre to manage the new service as well as an appointed judge in each court centre with particular responsibility for litigants in person.
Justice minister Simon Hughes said that though the priority was to avoid “expensive and confrontational court battles”, when people do end up in court “it is imperative that they have the right advice and information. One of my priorities when I became a minister was to improve the availability of legal advice” – particularly in family matters.
The court support was developed under the aegis of the Attorney General’s national pro bono co-ordinating committee and was informed by the Civil Justice Council’s 2011 report on access to justice for litigants in person. The Attorney General’s pro bono envoy, Michael Napier, said: “This strategy will make an increasing difference over time for LiPs. It builds on existing models and experience in England and Wales and brings resources together in the way that enables them to be more effective for LIPs.
“The strategy puts the LiP at the heart of things and exemplifies the coordination and collaboration that the Attorney General’s pro bono co-ordinating committees have always sought to facilitate. The result is to unlock more assistance to the public. I congratulate all who have been involved in bringing the strategy about. We must now be patient for it to build.”