The UK has cut legal aid in 2013 and no longer offers free legal advice to people who are going through divorce proceedings or parents who are splitting up regarding child contact arrangements. This is except for domestic violence or abuse cases. This has greatly impeded the access of people to justice when they are most vulnerable and need it.
Unrepresented litigants are now involved in more than a third of family cases. It is unfair for those who are forced to navigate court proceedings without legal advice. This also has an impact on all other cases going through the court process. Court time is wasted on dealing with incorrect forms filed by litigants in person and lost court hearings.
The Ministry of Justice will be conducting a long-awaited review of the legal aid system in 2018. It is hoped that more legal aid will be made available. However, there will likely be very little.
What should we do then?
Tesco’s motto is “Every little help”, and we try to do as many of these ‘littles’ each day as possible. This can sometimes translate into a lot. Although we may be at the top of our profession, that doesn’t mean that we can’t help others who may not have the means to pay for top-tier legal advice.
Withers family members not only work hard for their clients but also have the time and energy to help others in the community through various pro bono initiatives.
Every couple of months, all the associates spend an afternoon or morning at the Family Citizens Advice Bureau located at the Central Family Court at High Holborn. We arrive at the Central Family Court on High Holborn at 10 am or 2 pm. Once we have settled in, we go into a small, empty room equipped with computers and prepare for three hours’ worth of back-to-back meetings. The meetings last approximately 45 minutes and you can see four clients. When you receive the form, two minutes before the meeting, and a summary of the reason for your appointment, you will not know what advice is needed.
The advice sought can range from helping to complete the Court forms to move an application (whether it is a divorce application, financial remedies, or contact orders for children), to providing advice on how to prepare for a Court hearing.
Recently, I was contacted by a client who hadn’t seen his children in over a year. He did so initially out of his own will, but then because his ex-wife had refused to allow him to contact. He didn’t know his rights and didn’t know what to do. He wanted to rebuild his relationship with his kids. I listened carefully to his concerns and goals and then told him about the court’s procedure and approach. I told him that he had to build up through the different levels and types of contact. Before the 45-minute session ended, I assisted him in preparing the form necessary to file at court to regain contact if his ex-wife was not willing to accept his proposed building block approach. This was a constructive meeting and a good example of the types of issues that pro bono lawyers must deal with quickly.
Many of our associates volunteer at the Peckham Citizens Advice Bureau after work, where they see two clients for 45 minutes each regarding family best divorce lawyer surrey bc issues. Notes are usually sent the day before so you can plan for your meeting and make sure the client is happy.
A team associate has recently begun volunteering at Battersea Legal Clinic once per month after work. This helps clients with various issues such as small money claims and employment issues.
It is crucial to provide impromptu legal advice through Citizens Advice Bureaus to ensure that those in greatest need have access to legal assistance for their families. We hope to help people move at least one step closer to achieving their goals. Pro bono work is very important to us. It can be extremely rewarding and we wish there was more time to do it.