Over recent years, there has been a dramatic reduction in legal aid, especially in family disputes. This means that for many, going to court is to go it alone – without legal representation. But it does not have to be as extreme as that.
Last week, Maria Pedro, a Deputy Lieutenant for London and Steve Curran, Leader of the Council hosted an event to promote the excellent work of the charity PSU (Personal Support Unit www.thepsu.org) now operating also from the family Court in Feltham. PSU provides trained volunteers who give free, independent assistance in civil and family courts and tribunals. Their service is offered to everyone who asks, it is confidential, impartial and open to all.
A judge present at the event spoke about what a difference PSU can make. She said the Court, with the best will in the world, can find it really hard to help a Litigant in person, unfamiliar with the system and perhaps with English as a second language. Going to court is to enter an unknown world. It’s confusing, it’s stressful, it can be scary.
The PSU helped nearly 45,000 clients last year, a sharp increase from the approx 5,000 assisted in 2008-9. There are over 500 fully trained and experienced volunteers. They work with clients to establish for themselves what might be the next best step to pursue their case. They can accompany the client into court.
The qualities volunteers need are a basic kindness, a willingness to listen and to stand with someone at a very difficult time. Volunteers never offer legal advice. Might you yourself or do you know someone who might be interested in exploring becoming a volunteer?
The PSU’s vision is that every person in England and Wales attending a court or tribunal alone should have access to a PSU volunteer.