Sometimes in life you stumble across things that you wish you’d known about before. I have just come across Law for Life, a charitable foundation set up promote public legal education. It aims to ‘to equip ordinary people with the knowledge, confidence and skills that they need to deal effectively with everyday law-related issues’. It sounds brilliant, and it is.
As family lawyers we are all painfully aware of the challenges now faced by many people who need to access justice. The recent hike in the court fees for issuing divorce proceedings to a hefty £550 is one example. Since the sweeping reforms to the legal aid system in 2013 the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has formulated a ‘Litigants in Person Support Strategy’, and regular readers of this blog will be aware that as recently as 5 April we reported on a new guide published by the Family Justice Council, also sponsored by the MoJ, called Sorting out Finances on Divorce 2016.
This is undoubtedly a valuable resource for those looking to educate themselves on this complex area of law. However I was troubled by the inevitable inclusion of a somewhat brusque disclaimer:
“The information in this guide is for general purposes only. Please do not rely on it as a substitute for getting legal advice about what to do in the specific circumstances of your case’.
Ultimately, the message rings loud and clear – you are still very much on your own. As a government-produced document, the length, language and general dryness of the guide may also put people off. And yet there is hope. Throughout there are links to Law for Life’s website Advicenow and various, more concise guides to a host of common family law issues, which importantly (and mercifully) are written in plain English. Here there is also a disclaimer (no self-respecting legal information site would go without one) but its softer message takes account of the fact that if you are visiting the site, you are very likely to be ‘going it alone’. It states:
“The law is complicated. We have simplified things in the guide to give you an idea of how the law applies to you. Please don’t rely on this guide as a complete statement of the law or as a substitute for getting legal advice about what to do in the specific circumstances of your case”.
That’s more like it.
At the centre of its guidance is Advicenow’s excellent Going to Court section. There are various step-by-step guides designed to help those without legal help or representation – referred to rather anachronistically as litigants in person, or LiPs – which are great not only for helping those in need of advice but can’t afford a lawyer, but also for those occasions where the other party in a case is unrepresented and you want to provide them with the information needed to make the process easier for all concerned.
For those with a spare half hour, check out the 33 minute video guide on completing the financial statement required in divorce proceedings, known as a Form E. Despite having completed hundreds over the years, I still learned a thing or two! The website also has links to guides providing an overview of the process – such as divorce proceedings or how mediation works – which I believe are indispensable for the family lawyer’s information toolkit.