The Global Voice of the SRL: England and WalesNSRLP
Major changes in legal aid regulations in England and Wales which came into effect in April 2013 have resulted in more than half a million individuals who previously qualified for help with the costs of legal representation losing this assistance. Cases excluded from the ambit of legal aid now include debt, welfare benefits, employment, family law, non-asylum immigration, consumer or contract disputes, and criminal injury cases. Roger Smith, a longtime access to justice advocate, has written that “These cuts mean that England and Wales” – (once a “global leader” in legal aid provision) “will join the other jurisdictions around the world where legal aid…is now heading into retreat”.
Three years ago the Civil Justice Council warned that the impact of these cuts would be that self-representation in the courts of England and Wales would become “…the rule rather than the exception”.
Dame Hazel Genn, Dean of the Faculty of Laws at University College London , sat on the Civil Justice Council Working Group on Litigants in Person and was the keynote speaker at the National Action Committee Symposium in Toronto last month. “Speaking Up” asked Dame Hazel what she thought the justice system could and should do to alleviate hardships experienced by those coming to court without a lawyer.
“We need to help people navigate the court system and procedures without the help of lawyers. This means looking at practical ways in which we can simplify court procedure and training judges to adopt a more interventionist or ‘enabling’ approach in court. Self-representing parties seems to be the new reality for courts around the common law world and so courts need to adapt the way they have traditionally operated in order to provide effective access to justice for unrepresented litigants.”