The increase in the number of litigants in person has not caused more delays in civil courts, the head of the courts service has said.
Natalie Ceeney (pictured), chief executive of HM Courts & Tribunals Service, told MPs yesterday that it was not proven that cutting legal aid - increasing the number of people representing themselves - has slowed the courts process.
Giving evidence to the House of Commons justice committee, Ceeney was asked if the department had considered the knock-on effects of reducing eligibility for public funding – and in particular the effects of increasing LiPs.
‘[LiPs] have not actually increased the court budget or the demands on the court,’ she said. ‘Some take longer but some are shorter.’
Pressed by committee chair Bob Neill on how often she spoke to circuit judges to form such a view, she responded ‘very frequently’.
Ceeney added: ‘The evidence we have collected statistically suggests there is not a difference post these changes.
‘We are looking in the court reform programme as to how we can simplify life for litigants in person.
‘One of the challenges I inherited as chief executive of the court service is so many forms are written in legalese and you need a legal degree to be able to fill them out.
‘One of the challenges is to turn the forms into plain English. We have created the problem for ourselves by making the system so hard to use.’
Ceeney was later questioned on the courts closure programme and the fallout from the last review of the courts estate, which saw 142 courts shut under the coalition government.
A total of 11 of those sites remain unsold, either because no one could be found to buy them or they are part of a larger building such as a police station.
Ceeney conceded HMCTS has not been as ‘active’ as it could have been in disposing of the empty buildings, and a commercial partner is being brought in to ensure future closed courts are dealt with more efficiently.
She stressed that no decisions have been made as to which of the 91 courts earmarked for closure will be shut, and said the departure will spend the months leading up to Christmas considering responses to the consultation that ended last week.
‘The primary [consideration] has been access to justice,’ she added. ‘We want to make sure we have courts in the right place that people use.’