The increasing number of “unrepresented people in court” is an issue that Justice Minister, Simon Hughes, says needs to be tackled, and an announcement by the government is to be made within weeks.
Addressing the Liberal Democrats party conference 2014 in Glasgow, the MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark revealed that he had persuaded colleagues at the Ministry of Justice to find a solution to the growing number of ‘Litigants in Person’ – claimants who represent themselves at court.
Mr Hughes, who was deputy leader of the LibDems from 2010 to 2014, signalled that the announcement, which is likely to come before Christmas, will “affect all civil courts.” Despite the LibDems agreeing that there can be no extra funds to restore legal aid provision, Hughes also indicated that the application process for exceptional funding – put in place as a safety net for 'deserving' cases outside the scope of legal aid - would be made “much easier” before the 2015 general election.
The Justice minister said he was conscious of the extreme difficulties adding that his “wish would be, irrespective [of funding], is that everybody before they come to court has the opportunity to talk through with people exactly what the issues are.”
From 2011, about one in five of court cases have featured defendants representing themselves, and numbers have dramatically increased since the government cut legal aid in April 2013. The number of litigants attending out-of-court sessions in order to resolve their issues has fallen by nearly 50 per cent (Ministry of Justice).
It is thought that litigants are no longer attending solicitor’s offices and are, instead, being directed toward mediation, while those who do represent themselves in court are more likely to not have received the benefit of proper legal advice. As a result cases take up a much longer period of time, with a negative knock-on effect on public law cases coming before a judge.