Since access to legal aid was restricted in 2013 there has been a dramatic increase of litigants in person – people who represent themselves in court. Litigants in person often struggle to understand court procedures and their legal entitlements, and cases involving them take longer to resolve. This increases the risk of unjust outcomes for the litigant, and is also a huge burden on court finances and resources – and ultimately the public purse.
The Government has finally bowed to pressure from victims, campaigners and Labour MPs to agree to hold a review of the family courts following troubling cases where victims of domestic violence and their children have been left at risk of violence.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner has published work which shows that, as a result of cuts to Legal Aid, children have been forced to either become litigants in person, obtain advice and support pro bono or from the already stretched voluntary sector, or give up attempting to resolve their legal problems at all.
It is right that this review has been established by the new Minister, but we must ensure that children and vulnerable people are at the forefront of our minds when we implement changes to the legal system. The cuts to legal aid have undermined this principle and it is high time that the UK Government took meaningful action.