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New Support Package for Litigants in Person

October 31, 2014  |   Posted by :   |   Blog

Following the news that increasing numbers of separating couples are representing themselves, the Government has announced a £2 million ‘support package’ for Litigants in Person (LIPs) to provide practical assistance with dispute resolution. The intention of the new strategy is to encourage couples to seek out-of-court alternatives such as mediation and arbitration, as well as offering support for those who take their case to court. Justice Minister Simon Hughes says that the new Government support package ‘will make sure that separating couples and parents are able to access the right advice, information and support at the right time.’

A new support service for LIPs involved in family cases is also due to be introduced at selected court centres across England and Wales, with the intent of providing ‘a route to free or affordable legal advice’. Additionally, a six-month Cafcass-run helpline will launch in November for parents who are unable to resolve relationship disputes and need help avoiding a court battle. Callers will be referred to experienced family law professionals who can offer advice and guidance as well as acting as a single point of contact throughout their dispute. Michael Napier CBE, QC (Hon), the Attorney General’s Pro Bono Envoy, who helped develop the helpline scheme, explains: ‘They will talk through the difficulties being faced, assess what support the parent needs and will offer impartial information and guidance. This will include putting callers in touch with the relevant local professionals and support services, including mediation.’

The Government’s new ‘support package’ aims to ‘re-focus parents on the needs of children’ and provide information and support for Litigants in Person who may not know where to look for legal help. The plans for funding include:

  • Building up affordable community support services in areas receiving pilot schemes which will remain viable even when budgets continue to be under extreme pressure’
  • Opening more Personal Support Units in courts across England and Wales to offer practical and emotional support, and information for separating couples
  • Establishing additional LawWorks Clinics to provide an initial source of legal advice for separating couples
  • Setting up local and regional phone centres and ensuring that couples in need of advice are able to gain support via consistent email contacts

However, as with many of the recent Government reforms and proposals, the news has seen a less-than-positive reaction from Resolution, the association of family lawyers, who have likened the new support plans to putting a ‘sticking plaster’ on the broken family court system.

Nigel Shepherd, Vice-Chair of Resolution, suggests that the new initiative ‘is more about supporting the courts, rather than the families trying to navigate them. We know that solicitor negotiation and referrals to mediation and other forms of out of court dispute resolution are hugely successful in helping many people to resolve their differences more effectively, and with a minimum of conflict. Surely this is where the Government should be focusing resource, if it is truly committed to helping people find fair, appropriate and lasting outcomes for them and their families.’

Frances Lindsay, family law solicitor and member of the Law Society Family Panel and Resolution commented: ‘Out of court alternatives are obviously the best choice where people are able to sit together, but not everyone is able to do this. Some find it too emotional, others feel intimidated. The government’s solution of establishing clinics is, as Nigel Shepherd says, just a sticking plaster. It is not yet known who will man these clinics although it has been suggested that law students and trainees give their time. Whilst this is admirable, the quality of assistance is likely to be less than optimal, and those who volunteer their time while will lose any unemployment benefits they were previously entitled to. It really need not be very expensive to see a solicitor, at least in the first instance, who will provide you with some quality, experienced guidance.’

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