I read with interest your report on evidence given by Natalie Ceeney to the House of Commons justice committee.
This concerned the budgetary and ‘demand’ consequences for HM Courts & Tribunals Service of the ever growing number of litigants in person. Some readers may recall that in 2011 the Gazette published my article predicting dire consequences for other court users of the then proposed removal of family and children cases from the scope of legal aid.
Well, it seems I must have been wrong, even though most district judges I know have, particularly in family and children cases, doubled time estimates to accommodate the need to explain process to, and deal fairly with, LiPs. As district judges deal with more than 90% of all civil and family cases, mostly in the county court, it is a pity that Bob Neill’s enquiry related to ‘circuit judges’, to whom Ms Ceeney speaks ‘very frequently’.
Perhaps they should both make contact with those who actually do most of this work and ascertain their views and experience. Practitioners, too, might express a contrary view, based on their experiences of increased waiting times. As for the statistical evidence to which Ms Ceeney referred, it would be interesting to know if it is derived from the same sources as the ‘estimated’ statistics released by the previous lord chancellor, which were roundly derided. Unfortunately, it would seem that empirical evidence is out of fashion.
Ms Ceeney may be right in saying that some cases take longer while others are shorter. My experience suggests that for shorter cases, such as small claims, possession claims and enforcement hearings, LiPs fail to turn up more frequently than parties with representation. Of course, since LASPO, many cases do not take place at all. The curtailment of public funding and continually increasing court fees have put access to court beyond the available means of huge swathes of citizens.
For the courts to go trundling on only because access to justice has been put beyond the reach of the general public is a tragic irony.
Peter Glover, district judge, Dartford County Court