Ministry of Justice Report; support for litigants in person in private family law cases November 2014

Findings from a study into the experiences and support needs of litigants in person in private family law cases.

The Ministry of Justice have today published a report looking at the needs and experiences of people who are no longer eligible for legal aid in family law proceedings and are having to represent themselves.

Drastic cuts were made to the availability of Legal Aid in 2013 and the fallout from these is becoming increasingly clear. Basically the report says that those who are having to navigate the family justice system with no or little support are finding it quite difficult… er … Isn’t that kind of obvious?

Recommendations are made at the end of the report which may be helpful (in the probably unlikely event that they are implemented in full) but in all likelihood those who no longer qualify for legal aid and who cannot afford full service legal advice will continue to struggle. The risk remains that injustices will occur. In the family justice system the stakes are not just those of parents but can outcomes significantly impact upon the couple’s children.

We have recently assisted a father who would have received legal aid under the old system but not under the present system. The child’s mother made allegations against the father which allowed her to gain legal aid. These allegations were never tested in court. The outcome was that the mother was legally aided and father not. The father felt he was disadvantaged in trying to negotiate fair and long-term arrangements through which he would be able to see his children.

How were we able to give help to the litigants in person?

Firstly, because we are a small and flexible practice we are able to charge a lower hourly charging rate than larger practices with bigger centre offices and lots of support staff. My own hourly charging rate is currently £150 plus VAT. When I used to work for a well established and highly reputable centre practice the hourly rate which my time was charged to clients was more than £200 plus VAT per hour 10 years ago. The going rate for a solicitor as experienced myself in Devon is now generally in excess of £220 per hour us VAT. In other words we charge less for the same expertise.

We are also willing to assist on a “pay as you go” basis. In other words we will not represent the client in court but will assist them with advice from time to time as they need it and in accordance with their budget. Alternatively we can assist with a specific court hearing. The bottom line is that we work flexibly. We don’t need to do everything.

We will help our clients understand what they can do and what they should not do. We can help think about how best to gather evidence and to present their case. If a client is representing themselves in court we can help them to prepare and perhaps send them armed with a letter to help them to explain their case.

We can also help clients to keep their cases out of court

If we are instructed jointly we are also able to assist as a mediation service. A family mediator will help both parties to achieve a settlement together both feel is fair. Being both a solicitor and a mediator gives client confidence that when legal information is given to both.

When we are assisting in the capacity of being a family mediator then our clients can have confidence that the legal information is up-to-date and is relevant to the issues they need information about. Our mediation clients will also have confidence that we will draw to their attention issues where they genuinely need to take legal advice in order to enable them to make informed decisions as part of their decision making process.

If mediation is successful it is much cheaper than resolving the same dispute through a contested court process. Legal aid is still more widely available for family mediation than it is for representation in Court for family law disputes.

Read the Ministry of Justice Report on litigants in person here

Read the report here

MOJ litigants-in-person-in-private-family-law-cases-Report November 2014

or find the report here Link to MOJ Website

Is a free half an hour really good idea?

Some solicitors practices still offer a free half an hour appointment to new clients. Is this really free? Is it a good idea? Will be solicitor (if you see a solicitor ) actually give any advice or will they try to persuade you to instruct them at a price which you can not really afford?

We do not offer a free half an hour appointment because we do not think that half an hour is long enough to properly discuss a problem at an initial meeting. Instead we offer our clients a meeting of up to 1 hour for a discounted fee of £80 plus VAT (£96 in total).

At this meeting we will give advice and we will openly discuss what the costs of the different options might be. We will discuss with you what budget you have for the court proceedings and consider with you how this might best be utilised. Any work we then do on an ongoing basis is then charged at an hourly rate of £150 plus VAT. We are willing to discuss fixed fees and capped fees but will do so on a case-by-case basis.

We are a solicitors practice which specialises in family law and we are a mediation service which is based in Honiton in East Devon. We are contracted with the legal aid agency. We have branch offices in Exeter and Taunton. We are the only family mediation service which has a contract with the legal aid agency which is actually based in East Devon. Our Honiton office is on the Heath Park trading estate at a convenient location with free parking.

Just as we don’t offer a free half an hour appointment we don’t give free advice on the phone. Would you really want someone to give you advice without meeting you and without understanding the problem about which you want to be advised?

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