Guardian on legal aid cuts and a father's representation
" Legal aid 'Legal aid helped me meet my son'Stuart Johnson explains how he struggled with court process for months before getting access to his son through legal representation
Amelia Hill guardian.co.uk, Monday 6 June 2011 18.54 BST Article history
Stuart Johnson represented himself in court during his battle to get access rights to his son after his divorce
My wife and I had been together for 17 years when we divorced in 2007. After we split up she refused to give me access to my son, Jim, who was four, even though our decree nisi said I could see him on Wednesday and Sunday every week.
After all other attempts to see him got nowhere, I took my ex-wife to court. I had to do it all myself because I was told I was £28 a week over the limit for legal aid. That was despite being on benefits – I was paralysed from the waist down. Apparently the small savings I'd stored up during my time as a shop manager put me over the limit.
I paid the £175 on January 2010 and the whole awful process began. It was horrible, intimidating, embarrassing and humiliating.
There was no one to tell me how to behave in court. I didn't know what evidence was needed or how to even talk to the judge. I was bringing two suitcases of papers with me to each hearing but then, because I'd not know when to speak and when to stay silent, or what legal terms to use or what was important to tell him and what not, the judge would get angry and I would get confused and emotional.
It went on for a year and a half and we got nowhere. My wife didn't turn up for the hearings and I didn't know what to do to change that.
Then I met the people from the Personal Support Unit. They found that I was eligible for legal aid after all and as soon as I had a solicitor, everything changed. I couldn't believe how smoothly things go when you have legal representation. They cut through all the confusion and upset. They know how to ask for things and what's important.
After 18 months getting nowhere, I was given access to my son in a matter of months. I've got no doubt at all that, without legal representation, I would still not be able to see him and my case would still be getting nowhere.
It's horrible going through the court process on your own. Justice isn't done because you're the only one fighting for it, and you don't know what the rules are."