A non-partisan study published by parliament has added to the body of evidence attributing the rising number of litigants in person (LIPs) to cuts to legal aid.
A briefing paper produced by the House of Commons library research service includes details of a study into the experiences and support needs of LIPs in private family cases that was carried out for the Ministry of Justice in five courts, including a detailed analysis of 151 cases.
It found that appearing in person was wholly or partially a matter of choice for only one-quarter of LIPs.
Meanwhile, LIPs were no more likely to bring unmeritorious and serial applications than represented parties. Around half of those observed had one or more vulnerabilities, making it more difficult or, in some cases impossible, for them to represent themselves.
House of Commons library briefing papers provide MPs and their staff with an ‘impartial briefing and evidence base they need to do their work in scrutinising government, proposing legislation and supporting constituents’.
Papers on civil legal aid changes since 2013 and access to justice for vulnerable people were also published this week.
The paper on litigants in person highlights disagreement between the Magistrates’ Association and the MoJ on the extra time needed to deal with LiPs.
Commenting on the justice committee’s inquiry into the impact of legal aid changes, the paper states: ‘The justice committee also remarked that - notwithstanding the fact that hearing times are not a reliable indicator of how well or not a LIP is able to present their case - it had heard mixed evidence about whether cases took longer when LIPs were involved.
‘The Magistrates’ Association had suggested that they did, whereas the MoJ had cited its own research as indicating that they did not.’
The paper notes the justice committee’s conclusion that ‘there was no “silver bullet” to solve problems faced by LIPs and that they ‘should be given every possible help’.
The paper states that ‘commentators such as the National Audit Office and Commons public accounts and justice committees agree that the 2012 act’s changes have reduced spending on civil legal aid, but have questioned whether they have increased costs elsewhere in the system’.
The paper also notes that, in response to the justice committee’s inquiry, the ministry ‘defended the robust line it takes on exceptional funding, arguing that it should be available only where lack of legal aid would breach rights under the European Convention on Human Rights under EU law.
‘The MoJ did not agree that people who had been refused exceptional funding were at risk of a miscarriage of justice’.