A long-running struggle to help everyone walking through their doors desperately needing family law support has prompted four pro bono clinics to join forces to recruit more volunteers.

Islington, St James and East Greenwich and Dads House legal advice centres, which are part of the LawWorks network, held an event at Coram Chambers to raise awareness about volunteering in family law, where High Court judge Sir David Williams gave a speech later shared with the Gazette.

Williams told the event that he regularly has advocates appear before him pro bono in complex private law cases.

‘I know from the work I do as family division liaison judge for the south eastern circuit how much of the work of magistrates, district and circuit bench involves litigants in person – and I know how much they appreciate it when pro bono representation rides to the rescue.’

The gratitude expressed by pro bono clients is profound, he said. ‘Even if they lose the case, the value in ensuring their voice was heard is really important for them.’

Speaking to the Gazette after the event, solicitors Kate Buchanan and Kate Brett, who volunteer at Islington Legal Advice Centre, said national firm Duncan Lewis got in touch and offered to be an ‘overspill’ clinic for a few hours once a month.

The Islington clinic has been running since 1971, providing free help on civil litigation, consumer law, domestic violence, employment, family, housing and personal injury issues every Thursday evening. The centre helped 300 people last year.

Brett said family matters coming through the door might relate to children or domestic abuse or trying to understand the ‘no fault’ divorce process. People will say “I know I need to do something online. Can you talk me through it?” If you’ve received a divorce application through email, it can be quite hard.’

According to the latest available government statistics, the proportion of cases where both parties were represented fell from 41% between January and March 2013 – just before the government removed several private law cases from the scope of legal aid - to 18% between October and December 2022.

Buchanan said the clinics were receiving more enquiries than they can handle. Urging more family law specialists to volunteer, she said: ‘Please help if you can. Even half an hour will make a massive difference to someone’s life.’

Brett added: 'Half an hour could see someone leave the clinic feeling a bit less scared.'


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