The sharp rise in the number of people who represent themselves in court is a “travesty”, a charity has claimed.
A newly published report from Transform Justice, an organisation which seeks to improve aspects of the justice system, included a poll of 143 members of the legal profession. A vast majority – 90 per cent – of participants believed there had been a noticeable increase in ‘litigants in person’ over the last two years.
The charity attributed this rise to the near-abolition of legal aid in 2013. In fact, a majority of family law cases now feature at least one litigant in person.
Transform Justice Director Penelope Gibbs said it was a “travesty” that people who were not wealthy were in danger of being denied justice in the courts. Without legal aid to help them pay for professional representation, such people are given “little information to prepare for court”. As a result, they are “thrust into an adversarial and complex process which even those who are represented find hard to follow”.
Gibbs, a former magistrate, said the government should either “offer everyone access to legal advice or … redesign the system so those without lawyers can more easily make their case”.
Senior barrister Mark Fenhalls QC called the legal aid cuts “counter-productive” and said that they have “made the court system less efficient and more expensive”. He likened a person representing themselves in court to “having an unqualified person performing surgery”.
The Transform Justice report is only the latest of many criticisms of the legal aid cuts. A large number of charities, politicians and members of the legal profession have spoken out against them. Last year, High Court Judge Mr Justice Mostyn decried the “savagery” of the cuts in a speech in Sydney, Australia.