Our charity

 

Who we are

Every year, thousands of people in the UK face court alone. Often through no choice of their own, they must represent themselves at a moment that could determine the rest of their life. They may face divorce, eviction from their home, or the loss of their children. In an unfamiliar courtroom, up against a party with legal representation, the process can be stressful and confusing.  

We stand with those who have nowhere else to turn. We provide a free service across England and Wales, offering support and guidance before, during, and after court. We make sure people facing court are not alone, and help them navigate a complex legal system with dignity and self-assurance. Our volunteers help clients put their papers in order, so they are clear about what they need to say in court and so that they can best represent themselves.  

Everyone has a right to a fair hearing. We believe that any individual or family seeking help should feel listened to and understood. No one should have to face court alone.  

What we do – creating a level playing field

An award-winning charity with nearly 500 dedicated volunteers, we operate from 17 courts across England and Wales, as well as running a National Helpline. Despite the growing need for our work, we remain the only organisation providing this service. 

Our trained volunteers provide emotional and practical support to clients throughout the court process. We ensure those facing court alone can represent themselves with dignity, supporting them so they have the fairest possible hearing. In 2021/22, we supported clients on over 49,000 occasions.

Our volunteers support people at times of extreme stress, enabling them to present their case to the best of their ability. This gives them a far greater chance of accessing justice. Support from our volunteers can have a direct impact on the outcome of a client's case and in consequence on the rest of their lives. Tailored to each individual, our volunteers provide wide-ranging help, eg providing legal information, explaining what would happen in court, helping people to fill out complicated legal forms, and supporting them as they plan what they would like to say to the judge. 

We also work in synergy with external agencies to reduce duplication to ensure a smoother journey through the courts for our clients. When needed, our volunteers signpost clients to organisations offering free legal advice or specialised support on topics such as domestic violence, debt, and housing. Support from our volunteers not only makes a person's experience less stressful but can also have a direct impact on the outcome of their case. Feedback in 2021/22 shows that 93% of our clients felt that our support enabled them to get a fairer hearing in court.

Two-tier justice system?

Reductions in legal aid and closure of advice centres in recent years have stripped away a vital element of support for a fair and just legal system. As laws are increasing in both quantity and complexity, the need for advice, support, and representation is greater than ever.

In April 2013, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) implemented large changes to legal aid. Most social welfare law (education, employment, debt, housing, immigration and welfare benefits) and private law children and family cases are now out of scope for legal aid. This has forced more people into a situation where, if they wish to access justice, they must do so without legal representation.

Some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised members of our society have been hardest hit by the changes. Legal troubles are often compounded by additional disadvantages such as unemployment, language barriers, and mental or physical disability.

The burden of having to represent themselves can lead to relationship breakdown, mental health problems, financial difficulty, and even job loss. It can be a downward spiral, leaving people in a worse place than it should. Family breakdown has a serious impact on children, magnified by extended periods of conflict and unsatisfactory outcomes.

Our history 

In 2001, Diana Copisarow OBE, a volunteer for the Witness Service at the Old Bailey, was approached for help by a woman without representation about to go through a divorce from her barrister husband at the Royal Courts.  Under great stress, she faced a confusing court system and uncertainty about appearing before a judge. Diana and Michael Naish, the Director of the Witness Service were so horrified at the experience and lack of support in the civil courts, they set up Support Through Court, with the help of Mark Sheldon, CBE from Linklaters, and also seed funding from this law firm to meet the needs of people going through the court system alone.

Who we help and where

In 2021/22, 60% of our client contacts were involved family cases, of which 67% concerned the welfare of children. 20% of cases were concerned money and 6% housing. Other significant cases included supporting clients in immigration appeals, welfare benefits, and employment tribunals. We help people whose disadvantages stretch beyond finding themselves at court alone. Many of our clients are battling difficult personal circumstances.

A cost-effective model

We have low overheads as the courts in which we operate donate our office space and utilities. Our reliance on volunteers to deliver our core activities allows us to keep staff numbers low, ensuring we can support each client for just £32. This represents a model that is both cost-effective and scalable. Our volunteering opportunities allow us to draw the whole community into our service, creating social inclusion and skills development opportunities.                                                 

The Future 

We continue to believe that no one should face court alone, and are looking to develop ways to support more people through court. Please contact fundraising@supportthroughcourt.org if you would like to get involved. 

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