Lewis Hulatt, Consultant Solicitor with Major Family Law, the divorce and family law specialists, comments: I have a print of a picture by Pieter Bruegel the Younger which shows cash-poor people coming to the office of a lawyer burdened by livestock, fodder, eggs and suchlike. Caps in hand, they stand in an office crammed with sheaves of legal papers. What look suspiciously like post-it notes are attached to almost everything in sight. I remembered it as called ‘the Poor Lawyer’ perhaps out of sympathy with the plight of the Flemish man behind the desk charged with making sense of it all. It looks utterly chaotic. We have moved from the 17th to 21st Century, but how much has access to justice really changed?
The consequence of the withdrawal of legal aid, particularly for family cases, is that many people lack advice and representation. The system had serious flaws, but rather than address the problems, successive Governments found it more convenient to take help away from private disputes. The manipulated public applauded that a ‘gravy train’ carrying ‘fat cats’ had been de-railed, but what is the real consequence?
The average person again finds expert legal help very difficult to afford and legal redress seems only for the articulate and those that can choose to pay for it, so many people represent themselves.
The lawmakers keep needing to issue guidance about how the multitude of Self-Represented Persons should be dealt with. Legal processes are being ‘hacked about’ to deal with the difficulty brought about by people in the family courts representing themselves and neither understanding, nor wanting to follow, legal procedure. Incidentally, that also applies to some unregulated paid ‘assistants’ who turn up at court. Perhaps bending to the wind of necessity, the President and chief rule-maker called the Rules he and his Committees laboured on for years “absurdly over-elaborate” and “unreadable”. There is a difference between ‘red-tape’ and having some sensible procedures. We rather assumed that the legislators thought the Rules were the latter. Now we know.
Good solicitors do rather more than tell people how to obey rules and we can support clients who are Self-Representing.
Whilst solicitors’ offices may not yet be the place to bring livestock or eggs in payment, we at Major Family Law do look to see how we can tailor our service to make ourselves available to those who choose not to have full representation.