People who are forced to represent themselves in court as legal aid budgets are cut should not attempt to imitate the fast-talking lawyers they see on television, according to a new "idiot's guide".
New rules coming into force today will deny legal aid to tens of thousands of people who would have previously been entitled to it.
In an attempt to prevent the cost-cutting reforms causing chaos in courts, The Bar Council has produced a layman's guide to representing yourself in a civil action – including important points of courtroom etiquette.
Included are such helpful hints as: "Make sure you speak loudly, slowly and clearly."
It continues: "You might be tempted to speak like lawyers on TV. Resist this temptation. Lawyers do not really speak like that. Some bad lawyers do, but judges hate it."
On the question of courtoom courtesies, it advises: "Make sure you know what you are supposed to be calling the judge and whether you are supposed to stand up every time you speak (ask the usher beforehand if you are unsure). If you cannot find the usher, just say: 'Sir' or 'Madam'."
The 74-page manual has been compiled with the help of leading barristers.
As well as reminding litigants-in-person to dress smartly and turn up early, it warns: "Always be completely honest with the judge and with any officials. There can be very serious consequences if you deliberately lie or even bend the truth."
The booklet, titled A Guide to Representing Yourself in Court, also includes advice on how to find free or affordable help, put together your own case, defend a claim, represent yourself in court and deal with specific areas of law. With the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LAPSO) coming into force today, the number of people who will qualify for funding will be cut by a huge 75 per cent.
As many as 200,000 individuals a year – in cases dealing with issues such as family, personal injury, employment and immigration – will be affected. The Bar Council said it had put together the manual because it refused to "stand by as vulnerable people suffer".
Some in the legal world fear that the reforms, which are intended to save £350m, could result in vulnerable people being excluded from seeking legal redress.
The most senior judge in the UK, Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger, has told The Independent he feared that such changes risked denying justice to people. Maura McGowan QC, Chairman of the Bar, said: "We are faced with a situation whereby access to justice is no longer being adequately funded and vulnerable people will suffer. That is wrong, but it would be equally wrong for the profession to stand by and do nothing. That should not be misconstrued as an endorsement of the Government's position; it is because we genuinely believe that access to justice must be our primary consideration."
TV lawyers: behaviour to avoid
Boston's temperamental fast-talking TV lawyer won global audiences for her passionate, off-the-cuff style. But a more considered, and less personal, approach should be used in real life.
Suave and ferociously ambitious, Rupert Penry-Jones may act the part in the BBC series, Silk, but expect any amateur imitation to jar. Honesty is key.
John Thaw was ITV's gruff and principled defence lawyer.
Arriving in Alabama to defend his cousin, Joe Pesci's encounters with the judge in 'My Cousin Vinny' included falling asleep in court and arriving late, in a leather jacket. All are best avoided.
- More about: