Support Through Court, previously known as The Personal Support Unit, was set up in 2001 after it was noticed that people without legal representation trying to navigate the court and legal system alone, were left helpless without any advice or support regarding the court system. The charity aims to support people facing the civil and family justice system without legal representation and reduce the disadvantages that they face as a result.
Cut backs to Legal Aid
In recent years, access to legal aid and the amount of advice centre’s that have been closed, have put people in the position whereby they simply are unable to gain advice and /or have the financial means to be able to employ a legal representative to support them in their claim. This often leaves people at a very unfair disadvantage, particularly where the other party does have the means to employ legal representation. The vast majority of social welfare law such as education, employment, debt, housing, immigration and welfare benefits and most private law children and family cases, are now simply not covered by legal aid whatsoever. This has led to people being completely unrepresented if they wish to access justice.
The people most affected by these changes are the already most marginalized and disadvantaged members of society; those on low incomes, those with health problems and disabilities, those without employment, those with language barriers etc. Leaving these, who are already quite vulnerable, to navigate the justice system without advice and support only compounds the problems that they are already facing and can lead to mental health problems, extreme stress and anxiety, further financial difficulty and job loss. Attempting to access justice can often leave people in a worse place than where they started and in terms of family breakdowns, it has a serious effect upon children where further conflict and outcomes that are far from satisfactory only serves to add further stress and turbulence to the household.
Complex Legal System
The legal system can be overwhelming to say the least both in its complexity and unfamiliarity to people who are not used to it. Reports have shown the language used in the courtroom is often simply not understood by the majority of people and the wigs and gowns worn by the legal professions creates feelings of alienation and intimidation. As a result, clients left to represent themselves are at an even further disadvantage and struggle to present and manage their case effectively in a courtroom setting, further risking their access and right to justice.
What help can Support through court provide?
Support Through Court provides trained volunteers to offer emotional and practical support to clients facing the justice system alone. They enable people to navigate the complex legal system alone so they will have better access to justice. The support given is tailored to each individual and help includes explaining how the court system works, helping individuals to fill in paperwork and organise paperwork and discusses options to settle issues out of court. They can help to plan in advance what you want to say in court and if it is required, they can at times go to court with you in order to take notes and discuss these and help you with them afterwards. They also provide signposting to other specialist advice agencies and help you where possible, to get some free legal advice. By empowering and supporting the individual to represent their case to the best of their ability, gives them a better chance of accessing justice which has a direct impact upon the client’s case and therefore, the rest of their lives.
Support Through Court is also working with the Litigants in Person Strategy. They work with several charities to make the government and judiciary aware of the barriers faced and to understand the needs of those representing themselves. Liaising extensively across the justice system, they have been instrumental in easing the route to justice including the digitization of documents and processes and the online court. The Litigant in Person Strategy main aims are to improve access to the legal system by those attempting to navigate it alone by improving access to information, practical support, advice and representation. They also work in partnership with numerous other charities that aim to provide legal representation, advice and support to enable effective signposting to other agencies where appropriate.
The main clients of Support Through Court involve family cases especially concerning the welfare of children. However, cases concerning money, housing, immigration, welfare benefits and employment tribunals are also on the rise. The charity aims to give their clients the best possible chance in court and also reduces the burden on the court system by saving the courts both time and money. They have numerous centres based in court buildings around the UK and Wales that can be accessed by individuals. Although an appointment is recommended, they are a drop-in service so an appointment is not necessary but there may be a wait to see a volunteer. However, it is best to make contact with your nearest centre to check the arrangement that the local office may have.
Support Through Court not legal advice
It is important to remember that volunteers of Support Through Court are not legally trained and therefore unable to provide legal advice; they are there purely in the capacity of providing practical and emotional support to people. You can bring your any evidence that you have to them and they can help you to organise the paperwork but are unable to offer any opinion as to whether that evidence is important for your case or not. Likewise, the can help you to navigate and complete the relevant sections on any court forms but cannot advise you what is the best thing to write for your case in the same way as they can come to a hearing with you and take informal notes and discuss any next steps once the hearing has finished but they cannot speak on your behalf at the hearing itself. Where possible they will provide you with the information as to where to obtain free legal advice in the area but what is offered is very dependent upon area and the type of case that you are involved in.
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