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"The CAB is located in the main hall of the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in London. It is open on Monday to Friday from 10.00am to 1.00pm and from 2.00pm to 5.00pm. It runs a telephone help line on 0845 120 3715, which is available on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11.00am to 12.00 noon." Source: Her Majesty's Court Service

The following article was taken from The Times Newspaper - a subscription service, but registration is free.

Here, meanwhile, is something very odd. Very odd indeed:

Litigation crisis? This way to the casualty department

by john mummery

Your case is being heard at the Royal Courts of Justice and you can't afford a lawyer. Our correspondent knows where to find help

WHEN people go to law, the assumption is that they will brief lawyers to represent them. The reality is that more and more people cannot afford to do so, and find themselves having to comply with rules and procedures that are hard to cope with.

But for the past 25 years such “litigants in person” at the Royal Courts of Justice have been able to find the help they need from the RCJ Citizens Advice Bureau, a member of the Citizens Advice movement.

Tucked away in makeshift offices off the Great Hall of the law courts in the Strand and in more modern accommodation in First Avenue House in High Holborn, where the Family Division is based, the bureau’s staff and volunteers provide essential support to the administration of justice.

The bureau provides a service like no other. The door is open five days a week from 10am to 4.30pm. It operates as a kind of legal casualty department. Prospective clients see a receptionist as they would in a hospital A&E department, with various routes of referral depending on need — a bit like triage. Most clients are filtered through to a general adviser or to the staff member on duty from the bureau’s own legal team, which includes solicitors. If the matter needs some on-the-spot drafting or specialist advice, an honorary legal adviser will also see the client.

These advisers, who number more than 250 and are drawn from almost 60 firms in the City and around the law courts, are mainly responsible for the unique character of the bureau. The firms range from large City law firms to small local practices near the courts and a number of other firms that specialise in family law advice. All take part in the training programme devised by the bureau to equip them to advise its particular clientele.

The bureau sees people from all walks of life and every ethnic group, social class, age group and region of the country. There are slightly more claimants, but the bureau helps many defendants as well.

Judges in the Court of Appeal particularly value the service. They regularly come across complex cases that deserve to be heard. The appellants will often have had legal representation at the lower court but, having lost, cannot afford solicitors and barristers to go further. That can put them, and often the court, at a disadvantage. In such cases, if the appellant has not already found the bureau, the court will suggest that he or she make an urgent visit to seek help, adjourning a hearing to make that possible.

Often, the bureau does little more than help the client to marshal his arguments in a clear fashion, and law firms, working with the bureau, will do the important job of arranging and copying the bundles of documents for the hearing. Where a case is not the strongest or the client cannot articulate it very well, properly prepared documents go a long way.

A main aim is to empower the clients to represent themselves. But in some cases the bureau has also been able to arrange representation through the Bar Pro Bono Unit, with which it has close links. Several of these cases have influenced the development of the law and been widely reported. Recent examples of Court of Appeal decisions in which the bureau has acted include Dunnett v Railtrack (consequences of an unreasonable refusal to mediate); Taylor v Lawrence (a full court decided that it has the power to reverse its own order to prevent an injustice) and Re K (a defendant to committal proceedings — for breach of an order in a case concerning the allowing of contact with children — was entitled to legal representation under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

The bureau aims to provide a holistic service to its clients. It is not unusual for other social and financial problems to lie behind the client’s legal problem. Such matters are referred to the team of non-legal advisers, paid and volunteer, also based in the bureau.

The Home Office has provided the bureau with funds to pilot an innovative national project to help people who have been victims of miscarriages of justice. This has been running for almost 18 months and the bureau hopes that the Home Office will shortly announce a decision to extend its funding.

Until the project started, there was no provision to help those who had spent many years in prison before their convictions were quashed. Victims of miscarriages of justice often have many difficulties in readjusting to ordinary life. They have become institutionalised and in many cases their problems are compounded by mental trauma comparable to that suffered by people who have been held hostage. The project offers help and advice on matters such as housing benefits and families and information about organisations that can provide support. It is run by staff working with the national network of Citizens Advice Bureaux.

The narrowing of the scope of legal aid has contributed to a steady rise in cases. The Human Rights Act has produced even more work. The bureau already helps 11,000 people and handles almost 14,000 inquiries each year.

As well as the honorary legal advisers, there are 17 paid staff and CAB volunteer advisers. The trustee board, of which I have recently been appointed chairman, includes several solicitors from firms that provide the honorary legal advisers and they form the backbone of the operation. The main funding comes from the Legal Services Commission, Citizens Advice and project funders. For the rest, the bureau has to raise funds through its own efforts: the trustees and staff are organisaing a gala opera performance of Don Giovanni in Inner Temple Gardens on July 13.

It is crucial that this vital service to the public continues to win generous support so that it can maintain the standards that it has established over the past 25 years and expand and improve its activities over the next 25.

The author is a judge in the Court of Appeal





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