Ironically, this statement was made by Ken Clarke in November 2010 as Justice Secretary when he had just blown a hole the size of TON 618 in Legal Aid.
Now, I am not going to get into a debate about Legal Aid and whether it should be reinstated. Or whether there should be more help from the under resourced Citizens Advice Bureaus (‘CAB’) or other Law Centres. That is one for a chat over a pint (whenever that may be!)
And I should also add, I do understand the financial reasons for why funding Legal Aid had become unsustainable. However, I do not believe anyone will disagree with the original quote, that access to justice is the hallmark of a civilised society.
Sadly, this has been lacking in the UK today.
Historically, there has not been cost effective and transparent help for people and business dealing with small claims. Small claims are defined within the Civil Procedure Rules (the rules which govern civil disputes in the courts) as anything valued at £10,000 or below (subject to various exceptions).
Whilst claims of this value are labelled as ‘Small’, by most standards, £10,000 is still a lot of money.
Although for some people and businesses, it is not about the money, but rather seeing a fair resolution to a dispute.
Without Legal Aid, or the access to self-help advice and remedies,(through CAB or Law Centres – which sadly are ever decreasing in numbers), 1000s of people and businesses are left with the following options:
– Consult a solicitor – I have lost count of the number of times over the last 18+ years of practice I have had to turn people away because it was not economic for me to act. And this is not to be critical of law firms, and Counterculture does its best to keep its overheads low. But the court fees and risks are high;
– Some firms may offer fixed fee help, although I am unaware of them. And they are unlikely to be able to offer help throughout a claim because of their overheads;
– If you are lucky, you may have legal expense cover for your claim. Definitely check your insurance policies. You may have it and not realise it;
– Go it alone – this may work but often does not. Although the Small Claims Court (or Track to give it it’s accurate name) is supposed to be for lay people to use, the reality is quite different. Often the other party may be a big corporation and will have a legal department and use barristers. There are still court rules to follow (with consequences for the unwary) and the case will still be judged according to the law;
– If this really is your only option, make use of CAB or other law centres for guidance. They may also be able to send someone along with you for support at the final hearing. And if you are lucky, and they are willing, they could present your case, but this is at the discretion of the Judge;
– Drop your case – now this only applies if you are making the claim. Clearly you may have no choice but to do something if you are defending a claim. In any event, given any civilised society should grant people access to justice, it is unpalatable that this may be your only real option because of a lack of affordable help or that you do not have the expertise to handle the case yourself;
– Use an online portal, like Small Claims Portal, which offers fixed fees, and modular services. So, you can use as much or as little hep as you need for a fixed price.
There has always been a need for these services, and its fantastic to have a choice on how to proceed with what is inevitably going to be a difficult situation. However, now, more than ever, people and businesses, will need help. And help that they know they can afford. Particularly in the hard-hit Creative industries.
Find out more about Chris here
Counterculture’s full legal services here