In her recent blog my colleague, Lisa Brown, referred to the old saying often rolled out by family lawyers that “a man who represents himself has a fool for a client”. Therefore, I noted with interest that the Government has just announced a new £2 million package of financial support aimed at avoiding “expensive and confrontational courtroom battles” and to give better support to those who do end up in court and represent themselves as opposed to appointing a family lawyer.
The new support includes:-
- improving online information so that it is accurate, engaging and easy to find;
- a new strategy agreed between the Ministry of Justice and the legal and advice sectors which will increase legal and practical support for litigants in person in the civil and family courts;
- a new ‘supporting separating parents in dispute helpline’ pilot run by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) to test a more joined-up and tailored out-of-court service.
The funding will see:-
- more Personal Support Units opened in more courts across England and Wales to provide practical information and support including emotional support;
- additional clinics established to increase the supply of initial legal advice, work with the local legal professions and advice agencies, and with law schools where possible;
- advice made available by phone and email to local and regional centres;
- 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.
The Government are clearly reacting to the fact that the number of people representing themselves is increasing and they are trying to allocate funds to help those people. This has been necessary because of the removal of legal aid in all but a tiny minority of family law cases. Whilst not all people who represent themselves would have qualified for legal aid had it still been available it is fair to say that many would have done. The Government’s funding is aimed at helping those people.
Any additional funding, information and assistance for those who represent themselves in court proceedings is very welcome but it is inevitable that the family law cases that end up in court are the ones that are likely to be the most acrimonious and/or involve complex and subtle family law issues.
Whether it is a case to sort out the finances during a divorce or whether the case is to determine where a child lives then it will be so important for those involved to feel like they have had their case handled properly. Legal representation does come at a price but it is usually a price worth paying to ensure that the right a fair outcome is achieved. At least the new support being rolled out as a result of the funding will go some way to helping those for who paying for legal representation is simply not an option.