New legislation means fewer people now have access to free legal representation than at any time since legal aid was introduced.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) came into force yesterday. It means that free legal counsel will no longer be available for most family law cases, unless there is evidence of domestic violence.
This development has led the Bar Council to produce a guide to help litigants in person – people without legal representation.
This guide, written by barristers, covers finding affordable legal help, putting together a case and representing oneself in court. It also advises on more specific aspects of law, such as property ownership in relationship breakdown.
The Bar Council also suggests that litigants in person refrain from copying TV lawyers, because “judges hate that”. Numerous other recommendations are listed in the guide, from knowing the various stages of the court system to taking a “McKenzie Friend”. A McKenzie Friend accompanies a litigant in person and can offer assistance and support. The guide also stressed the importance of staying calm in court and dismantling the arguments from the other side, not simply attacking them.
Critics of the new legal aid cuts have included a senior judge and the British Supreme Court President.