With the cuts to legal aid, President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, warned that people would be likely to act to take the law into their own hands. As reported in The Guardian, a recent incident during a family law hearing at Southend County Court saw his prediction literally come to pass.
Violence erupted in the Essex courtroom just as the judge began delivering her adjudication over custody and visiting rights concerning a couple’s child.
The father – who was appearing in court unrepresented – stood, walked across the courtroom, turned to his wife and began to savagely punch her in the head.
He was restrained in a joint effort by lawyers, court officials and the judge herself before being removed from the court and arrested. He was remanded in custody to face charges of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and assault by beating. The Crown Prosecution Service later confirmed that the father had pleaded guilty to both offences.
Legal aid for most family cases was withdrawn in April as a cost-saving measure under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. Many lawyers have since warned that without legal representation more litigants will cause delays and disruption.
Steve Hynes, director of the Legal Action Group, which monitors legal aid, said: “This has always been a problem in family cases. It is not the first time it has happened. I have talked to judges and they have expressed concern about such incidents, particularly in family courts.
“But the increase in litigants in person adds another risk factor. There’s no one there to explain to them what is going to happen. They don’t know what to expect and they don’t know what the strengths and weaknesses of the case are.
“It can lead to frustration. The danger is there could be more of such incidents because there are more litigants in person. But that’s no excuse for such an attack.”