Magistrates have complained of an increasing inequality in the court system between those who have legal representation and those who do not.
A sample of 461 magistrates across the UK were polled in a survey conducted by the Independent on Sunday and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
A decisive 97 per cent of the magistrates said unrepresented litigants in person had had a negative effect on the work of the courts. And close to two thirds, said they thought this was the case most or all of the time.
According to the poll, 46 per cent of the people appearing in magistrates courts now have no legal representation.
One magistrate highlighted delays and unfairness in the current system, in which only one party in court case may have legal representation. He told the researchers:
“We and our legal adviser do our best, but time is not on our side. An impossible two-tier system has been created, between those that have [legal advice] and those that don’t.’
“In family [courts], if one side is represented and the other not, it makes it very difficult to have a fair hearing, as litigants in person find it difficult to cross-examine and don’t understand the process.”
Steve Matthews is chair of the Magistrates’ Association’s Family Courts Committee. He said:
“Savings in legal aid costs on family cases disadvantages those people unable to afford lawyers, and risks injustice for children. It is evident to every family magistrate that the rise in litigants in person in private-law children cases is having a profound effect on the effectiveness of court operations. This is echoed by all other family judges.”
His sentiments were echoed by Bill Waddington, who is chair of the .Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association.“Family courts are an absolute disgrace. People are representing themselves, so cases that should take an hour take a day.”