Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Increase in mental health issues among LIPs

Increase in mental health issues among LIPs


MIND and CAB call upon legal system to do more to help litigants in family court

Litigants in person (LIPs) are facing an increase in mental health issues arising from to the stresses of representing themselves in the family court, new research has revealed.

The report by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) found that seven in ten advisers said the process exacerbates existing mental health issues while just 1 per cent believes there is satisfactory emotional support available.

The implementation of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) in 2013 saw a reduction in funding for family disputes. This left a large number of people unable to gain legal advice and representation and resulted in a rise in self-represented parties.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of CAB, said, 'The stress of making your case against qualified barristers and navigating complex court processes without the right guidance can make existing mental and physical health problems worse.'

Some 70 per cent of bureaux advisers disagreed that LIPs knew how to access the emotional support that is available.

In its report, the CAB recommended that support for vulnerable people should be more accessible and called for courts and advice services to foster strong links with mental health services, such as the Samaritans.

Other suggestions include displaying information on mental health services prominently around courts, while court staff and volunteers dealing with LIPs should be trained in spotting the signs of mental health issues so they can signpost people towards specialist help.

Alison Fiddy, head of legal for the mental health charity Mind, commented: 'People with mental health problems are sometimes unable to advocate for themselves meaning cuts to legal aid have undoubtedly impacted on their ability to access justice.

'Mind has raised concerns of the effects of these cuts and has called for changes to the legal system that both make the system easier to navigate and empower people with mental health problems to fully participate in legal proceedings.'

Elsewhere in the report, nine in ten LIPs said the court process had negatively impacted at least one other aspect of their life.

CAB advisers identified these areas to include: physical health, relationships with employers, finances, and family relationships.

According to Royal Courts of Justice Advice (RCJ Advice), 92 per cent of clients report that they are representing themselves because they cannot afford a solicitor.

Almost one in five said there was a lack of information about legal aid while other reasons included: a lack of time to secure representation; mistrust of lawyers; underestimation of complexity; and inability to secure legal aid despite being a victim of domestic abuse.

'For people representing themselves in the family courts, whether in a divorce case or to keep the legal right to see their children, the workload to prepare can be unmanageable,' added Guy. 'In extreme cases people are quitting their job so they have the time to do research before going to court.'