Justice minister Simon Hughes has said the government will make an announcement within weeks on tackling the issues raised by the growing number of litigants in person.
Hughes told the Liberal Democrats party conference in Glasgow yesterday that he had persuaded colleagues at the Ministry of Justice to find a solution to the increasing number of unrepresented people in court.
The announcement will affect all civil courts and is likely to come before Christmas. Hughes also indicated that the application process for exceptional funding - designed as a safety net for 'deserving' cases that are outside the scope of legal aid - would be made ‘much easier’ before the 2015 general election.
But the LibDems echoed the other two main parties in saying there can be no extra funds to restore legal aid provision.
‘I am hoping you will hear encouraging announcements in the very near future to address the question of how to support litigants in person and support people without needing to give them lawyers,’ Hughes said.
‘I am conscious how difficult it is. My wish would be, irrespective [of funding], is that everybody before they come to court has the opportunity to talk through with people exactly what the issues are.’
He added that the problem of litigants in person is ‘not just a family issue’ but has increased across civil cases.
Hughes used his speech to conference in Glasgow to set a dividing line between the Liberal Democrats and their coalition partners on the issue of human rights legislation.
The Conservatives last week pledged to create a new bill of rights to replace the Human Rights Act, and appeared to suggest a changing relationship with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Hughes told delegates the Liberal Democrats had blocked the Tories’ attempts to scrap the 1998 act during their time in government and this stance would remain in 2015.
‘I make this commitment to you: we will always be the party of reform, including in Europe,’ said Hughes. ‘But, whatever the outcome of the next election, if Liberal Democrats are in government: we will always stand up for human rights.
‘We will never agree to leave the UK without a Human Rights Act. And we will never undermine the European Convention on Human Rights.’