Lost in the Process? Access to justice in an era of legal aid reform

Project Details

Description

Legal aid in England and Wales underwent radical reform in 2013, following the Legal Aid and Sentencing of Offenders Act (LASPO). Among other things, the Act prompted a significant retrenchment in legal aid, especially for civil law cases, where casework decreased by roughly two-thirds in the year post-LASPO (Ministry of Justice and Legal Aid Agency, 2014). There is now general consensus that the cuts went too far, and have had deleterious effects on access to justice (House of Commons Justice Committee, 2015). Of particular concern is the marked under-use of extraordinary case funding, a ring-fenced budget for those cases where there is a possible breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, including cases involving vulnerable litigants (House of Commons Justice Committee, 2015).

A further problem is the collapse of legal aid support services across England and Wales. Facing a lacuna of advice and support, those pursuing civil law cases are now left with few options but to navigate the system by themselves to seek a ‘do it yourself’ form of justice (Moore and Newbury, 2017). Thus, successive government-sponsored reviews and commissions have indicated that the cuts to funding have led to a sharp increase in litigants in person (LiPs), that is, people representing themselves in court (Trinder et al, 2014). The impact of this shift is just starting to be documented. There is evidence of court proceedings becoming slower and more volatile, and judges and barristers report adapting their roles to accommodate LiPs’ needs in the courtroom. What is lacking, though, is research focused on the experience of LiPs navigating the current civil justice system.

The proposed project addresses this research gap. Our core research aim is to understand the experiences of litigants in person in a post-LASPO era. We made the case for a holistic, litigant-centered approach to understanding legal aid reform in our recent book, Legal Aid in Crisis (Moore and Newbury 2017, Policy Press). This study builds an empirical basis for this perspective. Our objectives are:

1. To provide a detailed account of the activities undertaken by LiPs in navigating the family justice system.

2. To consider how LiPs’ access to resources (personal, social, institutional) affect their ability to navigate the family justice system.

3. To identify and explore the wide range of impacts on LiPs in pursuing a case in the family justice system, including those related to health, relationships, and finances.

4. To examine LiPs’ perceptions of the family justice system and its outcomes.

Short titleA study of the impact of legal aid reform on Litigants in Person
StatusActive
Effective start/end date31/08/1930/08/21