A new legal advice clinic is being launched to advise people involved in family proceedings who do not have the means to pay for legal representation. “Cardiff law firms, in partnership with LawWorks Cymru, local barristers and other stakeholders, have set up the pro bono clinic in response to overwhelming demand following the removal of legal aid for most private family law cases.”
The Cardiff Court Family Free Advice Clinic will launch on 6th October 2015, and will operate from the County Court. Spearheaded Her Honour Judge Isabel Parry, (Designated Family Judge for the South Wales and Gwent Areas) and District Judge David Crowley, the Clinic has been developed in response to evidenced need from PSU and Judges who were seeing an increase in unrepresented individuals involved with family court proceedings.
The Clinic is a broad collaboration which brings together 6 law firms (Alun Jones Family Law, Colin Jones Clarke and Hartland, Duncan Lewis, Huttons, Spicketts Battrick and Thomas Simon Solicitors), 22 barristers, a pro bono mediation service, 2 local universities, HM Courts and Tribunal Services, Law Works Cymru and the Personal Support Service. The Clinic will provide initial legal advice, information and advocacy and will run between 9.30am and 1.30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are the family hearing days.
The Personal Support Unit (PSU) supports about 250 litigants a month in the Civil Justice Centre and has seen a significant increase in the number of people seeking support , with 60 per cent of clients requiring support for family law related matters. The PSU provides emotional support and guidance but does not provide legal advice - the clinic will therefore complement its vital work. LawWorks Cymru and the PSU are supporting the clinic as part of the Litigants in Person Support strategy, announced by the Ministry of Justice in autumn 2014.
Judge Parry said, “ On behalf of the judges at the Cardiff Family Court I am delighted that there is going to be some legal advice available at court to litigants who are not represented. The judges are very conscious that coming to court is a new and difficult experience for parents and family members who are in dispute with each other about the children they love. This is a very small step on a long journey to make legal advice more available and accessible to litigants but we have to start somewhere. The judges are grateful to all who are giving up their professional time to help with this project and hope that this small step will encourage more practitioners to get involved.”
Mabel Thompson, Coordinator, PSU Cardiff said, ‘”The new Family pro bono clinic will provide access to legal advice in often critical and desperate times to vulnerable people across Wales. It will be great to know we can direct suitable clients to the Clinic. This service will ensure litigants gain additional access to justice through the support of lawyers.”
Heather Iqbal Rayner, Director at Duncan Lewis said, “The new family pro bono clinic is designed to give those who are vulnerable and struggling to deal with family law proceedings access to lawyers. This is an invaluable service which is welcomed by the judiciary.”
Susan Williams, Director at Thomas Simon solicitors said, “Those who need legal advice the most are often those who cannot afford to pay legal fees. They are frequently the most vulnerable members of society. This pro bono legal service allows the local legal community to give back to those who need the service most.”
Linda Parish, Head of the Family Law and Care Department at Spicketts Battrick said, “It has been pleasing to see such a large number of respected family lawyers and firms working together to give the public a service at court to assist the public at a stressful time.”
Martin Barnes, Chief Executive at LawWorks said, ‘“The new clinic is an important and much needed service, and is a testament to local collaboration, commitment and partnership working. It is a good example of the contribution that pro bono can make to enabling often vulnerable people to access advice and support.”