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New helpdesk launched to help people navigate Suffolk's court system

PUBLISHED: 17:02 17 July 2018 | UPDATED: 17:02 17 July 2018

Suffolk Law Centre, pictured at its official opening in St Matthews Street in Ipswich Picture: ADAM HOWLETT

Suffolk Law Centre, pictured at its official opening in St Matthews Street in Ipswich Picture: ADAM HOWLETT

Archant

A new initiative has been launched to help people through the courts process in Suffolk.

The Suffolk Law Centre is running a “Family Law Support Helpdesk” at Suffolk Magistrates Court in Ipswich to provide guidance for litigants who need support to understand the justice system.

It comes amid concerns that the closure of Suffolk’s two other magistrates courts - in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft – has “undermined” the justice system.

The University of Suffolk’s Access to Justice report, published today, found the closures had aggravated problems with the justice system – leading to non-attendances of defendants and lowering professional morale. The report, commissioned by Suffolk Public Sector Leaders’ group, also found costs for some defendants, witnesses and advocates to attend Ipswich magistrates’ court, had doubled.

Suffolk Law Centre, which assisted with the report, said it shared the report’s concerns.

Pippa Banham, discrimination legal Advisor at Suffolk Law Centre said: “Court closures are a particular problem for potential claimants in Suffolk as public transport in rural areas is often sporadic or non-existent even on a weekday and our clients are often on low or no pay with extremely limited resources.

“In addition, whilst we make every effort to represent our clients where possible, Suffolk Law Centre is a charity and any travel costs for staff and clients can be significant and prohibitive.”

Sue Wardell, business development officer at Suffolk Law Centre said court closures had a particular impact in family cases.

“The withdrawal of legal aid in 2012 means that only those parents who can afford to pay a solicitor can get legal support in respect of family court cases, so more parents are having to face court without any legal advice or support, putting further strain on an already beleaguered system,” she added.

“This is why Suffolk Law Centre have set up a Family Law Support Helpdesk, based at the Ipswich Magistrates Court every Wednesday, to help people who are facing court without the support of a lawyer to prepare for what will happen, and to help them understand what the decision of the court means.”

The service funded by a grant from the Access to Justice Foundation.

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