The charity helping people understand the court process has seen a five-fold increase in work since legal aid reforms were made.
Nick Gallagher, chief executive of the court-based Personal Support Unit, revealed the organisation now provides for 60,000 litigants every year at one of its 22 sites across England and Wales.
Speaking at a civil justice conference in London on Friday, Gallagher said 55% of clients are dealing with family matters, 40% are unemployed and 22% do not speak English as their language.
The service has become ever more important since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) took areas of civil justice out of scope. It cannot provide legal advice but it will guide litigants through the court process when they do not have a lawyer.
Gallagher said the solution to litigants in person was not necessarily to ensure they have a lawyer but more to feel the system is catering to their needs.
‘[Clients] are confused, frightened and intimidated by a system that was not designed for them,’ said Gallagher.
‘I am afraid the first thing they say when you ask about access to justice not always access to a lawyer. They talk about having their story heard and being able to put their story across with dignity. We need systems that allow that to happen.’
Gallagher said the court process often appeared to be tailored to lawyers, judges and administrators rather than litigants, particularly in the language used. He added that the proposed online court for resolving civil claims is an opportunity to simplify the process and ‘level the playing field’ in terms of language and process.
The government is coming under increasing pressure to complete its review of the legal aid reforms, with 71 MPs signing an early day motion to urge the Ministry of Justice to take prompt action.
The motion states that in the first year after LASPO came into force, the number of cases in which legal aid was granted fell by 46 per cent from 925,000 to 497,000. The number of legal aid providers has fallen by 20% in five years.