A sharp increase in people representing themselves at court has prompted legal organisations to draft guidelines for lawyers who come up against people who find themselves in court without representation.
Developed by the Bar Council, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and the Law Society, the guidelines have come in response to cuts in legal aid, the increase in the small-claims limit and the introduction of employment tribunal fees. The guidelines relate to civil and family courts as well as tribunals where there has been an influx in people representing themselves having not been able to obtain free legal advice.
Lawyers will be given guidance on how they can help unrepresented people without this conflicting with their duties to their own clients. They will be advised to communicate clearly and avoid technical language or legal jargon, or to explain jargon to the unrepresented party where it cannot be avoided.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen said: “Cuts to legal aid and increases in court fees have forced more and more people into ‘do it yourself’ justice, where they find themselves dealing with unfamiliar procedures in busy courtrooms whilst trying to resolve often life-changing issues regarding their families, their homes and their futures.
“We recognise the difficulties that people face in these circumstances and the consequent challenges created for lawyers acting for represented parties.
“We hope that these guidelines will help everyone concerned with cases involving self-represented litigants, but would again emphasise that the cuts to legal aid need to be urgently reviewed by the incoming Parliament.”
Chairman of the Bar, Alistair MacDonald QC, said: “The people who lose out most from the rising tide of litigants in person are the litigants themselves. It is one of the worst outcomes of the legal aid cuts that people facing major life events such as a family break up, have little choice but to put their case alone and without legal support or representation.”
He said that it would have been easy for the legal profession to sit back and let the chaos play out in order to highlight the full impact of the cuts.
“We believe access to justice is a fundamental part of the rule of law and are doing all we can to help limit the impact upon those who find themselves in this dire situation,” he added.
The guidelines are available on the websites of the Law Society, Bar Council and CILEx.