Cuts to legal aid, rising legal costs and a reduction in resources have contributed to an ever-growing number of litigants in persons. Recently I was invited to attend a “CLOCK presentation”. CLOCK is a Community Legal Outreach Collaboration initially started in Keel. It aims to bring together members of the university, judiciary, barrister chambers, law firms, CAB, CAFCASS and Canterbury Court Service, to assist and promote access to justice. Law students at Canterbury Christ Church University have become trained Community Legal Companions and can provide support for litigants in person at court in finding Legal Aid assistance, mediation services, charitable support services and affordable fixed fee services. It is hoped to bridge a gap between no knowledge of the law and being able to afford representation.
During the BPTC I volunteered at the Personal Support Unit at Newcastle Combined Court. The PSU similarly supports litigants in person particularly with emotional support in court. Law is obscure and complex and this is the major root of the problem for litigants in person. A lot of time is spent in the PSU helping a client to simply read a form, understand its content and establish exactly what is needed to go in. Clients find themselves overwhelmed by what the court needs of them and when- the latter causing issues and delays not only with the client’s case but the court’s timetabling. Whilst a PSU volunteer cannot offer legal advice they do speed up the court process by offering advice on the issues mentioned above. When a litigant in person was offered moral support from a PSU volunteer, they became more comfortable having a discussion with counsel from the other side. There is currently talk regarding whether a PSU could be established in a Kent court.
Generally these initiatives help to ease the burden and time restraints of the court, whilst providing an invaluable practical learning experience for students. They also help barristers who whilst helping pro-bono may find work on a DPA basis. I felt privileged to be included and hope to continue to work closely with these initiatives that always need as much support as possible.