As reported by Richard Moorhead, the Civil Justice Council has issued its report on how to respond to the increase in self-represented litigants expected in England and Wales as a result of the massive legal aid cutbacks.
The recommendations, as summarized in the press release, will be astonishingly familiar:
1. Improving the accessibility, currency and content of existing online resources;
2. Producing a ‘nutshell’ guide for self-represented litigants (SRPs);
3. Improving judicial and court services for SRPs;
4. Advice for judges on the availability of legal pro bono services;
5. Guidance for court staff when dealing with SRPs;
6. Guidance for legal professionals, and what SRPs can expect from lawyers;
7. Notice of McKenzie Friends; these are people who volunteer to assist unrepresented parties. (Editor’s Note: This concept, unknown in the US, will be the focus of a future post)
8. Introducing a code of conduct for McKenzie Friends;
9. Freeing up in-house lawyers to provide pro bono services; and
10. A call for leadership from major advice and pro bono agencies across England and Wales to drive collaboration.
The report also makes medium term recommendations:
a) A systematic review should be undertaken of court leaflets, forms and information, involving consultation with experts in the field;
b) Making a primary website available that pulls together and maintains the best independent guidance;
c) Increasing the number of courts that offer Personal Support Units and information officers to assist SRPs;
d) Producing a user-friendly guide to the Small Claims Court;
e) Improving access to legal advice;
f) Developing Law works early electronic advice for SRPs and agencies;
g) Finding new means of funding the administration of pro bono and other voluntary legal services;
h) Offering surgeries and after-hours court information sessions for SRPs;
i) Keeping records of numbers and circumstances of SRPs, and ensuring court user committees address their needs; and
j) Reviewing the question of access to appeals after refusals by a judge on the ‘paper’ application.
Longer term recommendations were as follows:
1. Developing arrangements for mediation and early neutral evaluation when SRPs are involved in a case;
2. Developing Public Legal Education;
3. Further developing pro bono advice and assistance;
4. Research-based improvements to the small claims process; and
5. A study of other forms of procedure for SRP cases e.g. holding hearings in community centres, capping costs.