Family lawyer Paul Hunt from Merseyside law firm Kirwans has spoken of his concerns in advance of the cuts which will come into effect from April 1st this year, leaving more than 550,000 people across the country ineligible for legal help and representation.
Paul said: “The withdrawal of legal aid means that only public law cases involving the local authority and cases where there is a proven element of domestic violence will have access to government funded representation.
“As a result, an increased number of those involved in legal cases will either have to pay for solicitors themselves or act in person without any representation.”
“Acting for a client when the other party is unrepresented makes a solicitor’s job even more difficult. Discussing issues with ‘the other side’, a long-established method of negotiating the best outcome for our clients, becomes near-impossible due to the personal involvement of the other party.
“With emotions running high, they will regard the opposing solicitor with a degree of suspicion, and are likely to be defensive and unfamiliar with the court processes.”
While the Courts have already begun to adapt to the needs of unrepresented parties, dealing with what may be the unrealistic expectations of litigants in person or seeking to sift out the relevant material and evidence will inevitably cause delay, said Paul.
He added that the funding of evidence could also prove a huge problem when it comes to self-representation. “Almost all evidence that is obtained from other sources involves paying something to somebody and those expenses will no longer be covered by a legal aid certificate,” Paul said.
“Typically this involves obtaining police domestic violence/call out logs or GP reports or records both of which are frequently required by the Court. The same applies in financial cases to valuations of properties. These issues will not simply evaporate purely because funds are no longer available for them to be investigated.
“There are other areas in which the Court will on necessity be forced to change the way in which deals with certain types of dispute. In cases relating to children, for example, hair strand analysis tests are sometimes used to detect illegal drug use. These tests are not cheap and at present are mostly funded from a party’s Certificate of Public Funding. If a party can’t meet the high cost of drug testing, then the tests will not happen, and the Courts may have to consider reversing the trend towards the use of scientific evidence to deal with allegations of this kind.
“Ultimately, a person without legal aid may themselves pressurised into accepting a financial settlement simply because they lack the knowledge or stamina to handle the case on their own and just want the matter brought to an end.”